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Richmond County schools still trying to solve busing issues

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When a stressful school year let out for summer, the Richmond County School Transportation Department began thinking about change.

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Transportation Department mechanics Reynolds Tank, left, and Lorenzo Thurmond pull out the brake system of a Richmond County school bus to replace the kingpin. Mechanics work eight-hour shifts every day to ensure buses run properly.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Transportation Department mechanics Reynolds Tank, left, and Lorenzo Thurmond pull out the brake system of a Richmond County school bus to replace the kingpin. Mechanics work eight-hour shifts every day to ensure buses run properly.

The 2011-12 school year kicked off with buses running hours behind schedule and continued to the last day with an average of 28 drivers marked absent every morning.

After the Richmond County Board of Education considered outsourcing the management of transportation to an outside company, Transportation Director Jimmie Wiley has stepped up efforts for improvement.

The department is holding a job fair June 4 to recruit as many bus drivers as possible along with two mechanics. The goal is to build a staff of drivers to eliminate chronic absenteeism and help routes run on time.

“We’re trying to be proactive and get in front of where we were last year,” Wiley said. “When we started last year, we started with a rocky start.”

Wiley said many past problems began with the logistics. Last year he had to design 152 bus routes using 140 drivers with an average of 28 drivers calling out of work every day. It got so desperate that if a driver said he locked his keys in his car and couldn’t come to work, Wiley offered to pick him up at home.

Along with the attendance issue was the adjustment period needed to perfect a new system for transporting magnet school students. The department had to balance the normal zone routes while shuttling magnet students across the district, which caused buses to run at times two hours late the first two weeks of school.

The department received 5,000 angry calls from parents on the first day, all wanting to blame Wiley, but the director bit his tongue.

“I can’t say ‘Ma’am or sir, we are concerned about 22,000 plus students, not just your child,’” Wiley said. “Transportation is a department that’s not for everybody. Everybody wants what they want when they want it. You have to have a thick skin.”

To reform the department, Wiley said recruitment of drivers has to become easier.

Candidates have to undergo about six weeks of unpaid training before they can start. They have to have a clean driving record, no DUIs and pass a drug test – requirements that thin the pool from the get-go.

If the department starts training 10 candidates, they often dwindle to five after orientation and to one after the written test, said Janet Freeman, an operations manager.

Once the department gets a fleet of employees, drivers have to stay committed. They deal with early mornings, rowdy students and parents who sometimes step on the buses to complain.

“Fifty percent of the battle is a good attitude and a love for children,” Wiley said.

Frank George, a bus mechanic and part-time driver, said he got involved in the department through a talent for mechanics and a love for children. He worked on diesel engines and fixed generators for the U.S. Army for 20 years. He took a job as a mechanic for the school system six years ago, but works as a driver as needed to help the slim staff.

“I care about kids, I do everything I can to raise mine right ... so I try to do the same for every one I come across,” George said. “I do it because I love the kids, and if I don’t do it, who will?”

George said the job is rewarding but demanding. Drivers have to keep an eye on the road and a watch on each of the pupils in the rearview mirror.

Drivers have to have a good work ethic and be comfortable with the pay – $7.25 an hour for a sub driver and $9.44 for full time.

Department staff designs routes and assigns drivers weeks ahead of when school begins based on the population of neighborhoods.

Richmond County Board of Education member Frank Dolan said 30 percent of children lived at different addresses last year than what was on file on the first day.

The confusion forces the transportation department to have to readjust routes and drivers while school is in session when routes should have been finalized during the summer.

“It has to do with children having children, moving different places, rent comes up and they move,” Dolan said. “I’m encouraged that (Wiley’s) thinking ahead, but we have other problems, too.”

Wiley is encouraging all qualified candidates to apply, noting schedules are available for part-time and full-time work.

The job is rewarding, he said, especially because drivers are a part of a network that contributes to a child’s success in education.

“My job is to get them there on time, the lunch room director’s job is to feed them on time and the homeroom teacher’s job is to teach them on time,” Wiley said. “There’s a connection there.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: RCSS Job Fair for bus drivers and mechanics

WHEN: June 4 9 a.m. to noon; 1p.m. to 3p.m.

WHERE: RCSS Transportation Department, 2950 Mike Padgett Highway

WHAT TO BRING: A valid drivers license, three references and work history

Comments (13) Add comment
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double_standard
166
Points
double_standard 05/24/12 - 10:25 pm
1
0
Zoning Issues

The School Board need to look @ these ridiculous school zones children living off Jimmie dyes Pkwy zoned for Richmond Academy that's over 10 miles one way.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 05/25/12 - 01:10 am
1
1
Bus driver shortage and absenteeism

What role does student-rider misbehavior play in the driver-shortage and -absenteeism problems?

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

countyman
20627
Points
countyman 05/25/12 - 01:56 am
2
1
Double-standard... The RCBOE

Double-standard... The RCBOE will have to come up with a solution in the near future... The growth around Belair rd, Jimmie Dyess, and Gordon Hwy between Jimmie Dyess and Grovetown is crazy(all zoned for ARC)... They're still building homes in Elderberry, Granite Hill, and Willhaven... Then you have the 200 acre Haynes Station and 62 acre residential/1 acre commercial Mccoys Creek on Gordon Hwy.. The new townhome community Cushendal on Belair rd, and future plans for a 18 acre townhome development at Gordon Hwy/Robinson Avenue... There's plenty of land along Jimmie Dyess Pkwy across the street from Zaxbys... Construction will start on another residential development in this area right at the traffic signal.. The commercial growth is coming(25 acre/10k sq. ft Shoppes at Dyess Park on the Zaxby's side of Jimmie Dyess, 11 acre &13 acre commercial developments, and Circle K on Gordon Hwy) due to the residential growth.. The city installed the traffic signal near Zaxby's last year, and Belair rd( from Wrightsboro to Belair Estates) is supposed to be widen this year.. I feel sorry for the people who have to use Jimmie Dyess to access Fort Gordon, or to make a left onto Gordon Hwy daily in the future...

The residents of Southwest Augusta actually live closer to Glenn Hills, and Evans compared to ARC. Parents won't be happy if their child becomes zoned for Glenn Hills when ARC has the only IB program in the metro area.. ARC is really the only school in the metro were you have middle/working class/poorer kids from Harrisburg, wealthy students who live in Summerville/ Forest Hills, middle/upper middle class from Belair/Jimmie Dyess, etc representing all of the races.. A high school probably won't be needed for a while, but a new middle and elementary will though.. I'm positive Sue Reynolds is around 800 students, and the campus is already the size of middle schools.. Gordon Hwy is the perfect spot to build the new middle and elementary schools..

nothin2show4it
120
Points
nothin2show4it 05/25/12 - 07:50 am
0
0
Not even the issue.
Unpublished

When you have 20% or more people absent on a daily basis then there are deeper issues going on. In most cases there are two issue. 1. pay and 2. lack of support. You see both in this article.

The driver pay is low especially when you realize that the bus driver works 5 hours a day tops.

Secondly the managements view of the driver or the lack of support or respect. Wiley talks about the "chronic absenteeism," "key locked in cars," and "outsourcing." It is always the drivers fault that they are absent and then on top of that they have to live under the threat of outsourcing.

Richmond County School System should try paying their driver better and supporting them more if they want to run on time. It is a proven fact that it will work. Other companies and School systems have tried this and won.

Happy workers come to work because they enjoy working there.

reality_bites
3
Points
reality_bites 05/25/12 - 08:29 am
1
0
Need for Drivers

Why not evaluate more pay for the drivers? Perhaps they would want to endure more. RC is the lowest paid in the area. Who would want to get up out of bed and sub for $7.25/hour. They must be crazy. What they pay is not enough to have to put up with the badness, rudeness, and irate parents. Now, in my spare time, I drive for a neighboring county who pays subs more than RC pays a regular driver and I love it!!!! RC needs to re-evaluate what they are willing to pay to retain GOOD, DEPENDABLE DRIVERS. That will be the only way they will get their system on track and build a responsible pool of drivers.

Tots
26087
Points
Tots 05/25/12 - 11:58 am
1
0
All,

Permanent driver's need to be assigned three schools everyday..
As it is now, you have some driver's doing three to four schools daily, and others only one or two..They have a select few who are being paid as stand-by driver's ,that make more than the regular driver's and do less work.....Not the best or most efficient way to run a system..
Post all bus numbers and routes in the bus terminal,this would allow all driver's to see where they could help another driver when they need it...Post how many hours each bus driver is being paid....(LAUGHING)because,they wont do this, because they have certain driver's they never cut their hours...
If they allow certain driver's to come back after illnesses or other reasons,have them working routes and not sitting around on the clock..

Improve the moral and you will improve the productivity...
It's a running joke for years who they allow to break and bend the rules,even the office employess joke about it...

Tots
26087
Points
Tots 05/25/12 - 12:20 pm
1
0
Cut Hours,

I'm going to give an example of how A-backwards some of the things they do is and how unfair it is.....

If you follow the rules they set into place and do what you should be doing,they will cut your hours....OK,i'm fine with hours being cut when your routes change and you are doing less...But, how can you only cut one or two driver's hours from their first school when the school lets out at the same time for all eight to twelve drivers?
Still waiting on this answer and correction to be made across the board..

Tots
26087
Points
Tots 05/25/12 - 12:35 pm
1
0
Missed days,

Those people in the office cain't possible be that stupid ,not see which driver's have made a habit of missing work..And, which days they are out...>>MONDAYS and FRIDAYS.....Same days for years and same people.... Yet,they reward them with new school buses,over time and out of town field trips....

Tots
26087
Points
Tots 05/25/12 - 12:48 pm
1
0
Reward,

Your senior drivers,instead of your newly hired drivers..Stop pitting the older drivers against the newer hired drivers...I'm all for- any, and all drivers making more money...But if you are not driving a route,you need to be paid the $7.25per hour,even stand-by-drivers....

Dudeness
1546
Points
Dudeness 05/25/12 - 02:34 pm
1
0
There are other good ideas

There are other good ideas here, but one thing that could shorten the time it takes to finish a route is to reduce the ridiculous number of stops on each street. I get frustrated when I'm sitting behind a bus that stops at every other house as if the kids can't stand to walk a few more steps home from one bus stop. That strikes me as being extremely inefficient.

Tots
26087
Points
Tots 05/25/12 - 02:46 pm
1
0
Bus stops,

You need to report the bus driver and stops if you see this happening..
A few years ago the higher ups( Laughing) finally gave the drivers permission to eliminate or combine stops..This was to cut down on wear and tear of the buses and because of that law about having no bus stops within so many feet of sex offenders....

Some parents still demand curb service...
But as with most things at the BOE,they bend the rules for certain people...

countyman
20627
Points
countyman 05/25/12 - 03:52 pm
0
1
Maybe they should go back to

Maybe they should go back to letting the magnet school students catch the bus from their nearest highschool... The new magnet school opening next to Augusta Tech in South Augusta may draw studens from East Augusta, or the city of Hephzibah...

Tots
26087
Points
Tots 05/25/12 - 07:06 pm
1
0
Countyman,

Posted this at 3:52pm-Maybe they should go back to letting the magnet school students catch the bus from their nearest highschool...

Tots says- Well,that's just what they do right now..The only difference in the way they transport the magnet students is in the way they pick them up and take them home in the afternoon routes..
But they are still sending late buses to schools to pick up car riders and late students because the parents don't want to drive them downtown..Very big waste of taxpayers money...

Countyman also posted this-The new magnet school opening next to Augusta Tech in South Augusta may draw studens from East Augusta, or the city of Hephzibah...
Tots says- They already get students from all of the areas you mentioned,if anything the new technical magnet school will be closer for more students..And one very postive thing with the students going to this school, as opposed to going to the ones downtown ,is way less railroad tracks to cross and hold the buses up as they so often do...
Another positive thing will be not having to dodge people walking in the streets or pushing shopping carts down the road..And have any of you really been on the roads the buses travel to and from to take the students to school? Take a trip starting with Old Savannah Road,then cross over the tracks by the metal scrap yards,keep going till you get to 12th street,from 12th you can get to pretty much anyone of the magnet schools...How many houses did you see falling down,overgrown,boarded up,burned out,and vacant?? It's really bad..

countyman
20627
Points
countyman 05/25/12 - 07:24 pm
0
1
According to the Sue Reynolds

According to the Sue Reynolds website they have 739 students.. The RCBOE needs to become progressive, and start planning on building new schools...

I would love if RCBOE actually took the initiative to open a school in the real downtown area(Central Buiness District)... The school would do well statiscally, and it would help the continued growth of the CBD... Davidson is located downtown, but it's considered a magnet school.. AR Johnson is located in the Laney Walker neighborhood, and CT Walker is in the Bethlehem/Laney Walker area...

Maybe they could have a separate bus system for the magnet and regular schools..

Then try keeping certain buses in the same area year round...

1. West Augusta/Summerville/Forest Hills/Harrisburg/North Richmond

2. East Augusta/Inner South Augusta(Josey area/Regency mall)/Laney Walker/CBD/Olde Town

3. South Augusta/Hephzibah/Blythe/Mcbean

4. Southwest Augusta

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