Because of budget constraints, the Richmond County School System will alter an 11-year-old agreement with Jessye Norman School of the Arts and no longer bus students home from the after-school program.
The change is a compromise made after the district informed the school in May that it could no longer transport students from their zone schools to the arts building on Telfair Street or take them home when the program ends at 6 p.m., as had been done since the program’s inception.
There were 81 students enrolled in the program last year; about 50 were being transported by the school system from Langford Middle, C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet, A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet, John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet and Hornsby K-8 schools, according to Jessye Norman board of directors member Linda Scales.
Scales said the school will have to ask parents to pick up their students or find carpools at the end of the day, but the compromise is better than leaving students without a method of getting to the school at all.
“It will be hard, but we’ll try,” Scales said. “We appreciate the support, because it could have been more difficult.”
The Richmond County Board of Education approved the compromise 7-2 Tuesday, with Barbara Pulliam and Patsy Scott in dissent and Marian Barnes absent.
The school offers free visual arts, dance, music and drama education to mostly low-income students, along with tutoring and homework assistance in its after-school program.
Transportation Director Jimmie Wiley said his department has designed routes so drivers can efficiently drop students at Jessye Norman while they are running the normal routes from the five schools to surrounding neighborhoods. The cost over the years has come in driving the roughly 50 students from Jessye Norman to their homes.
During this budget year, when all schools had to cut 7 percent of their costs, the transportation
department also had to slice $300,000 from its operations.
Because Wiley said there is almost no cost for drivers to make pit stops at Jessye Norman along their normal afternoon routes, board member Alex Howard said it only makes sense to at least continue that aspect.
“We have a group of people trying to involve our students in something good, a free program that does not cost the school system any money,” Howard said. “It’s benefited our students, and I think it’s something we need to do.”
Scales said that in the program’s history, no students have dropped out of school, many have gone on to college and all perform ahead of their peers on standardized tests in every subject.
“It goes along with the evidence that children involved in the arts do better academically,” Scales said. “They’re more focused and disciplined.”
Pulliam said she could not support the busing of arts students after the board this year declined to begin providing transportation for alternative program students from their homes to the campus on Walton Way.
“We have to transport all our kids,” she said. “I can’t just say because a kid is at risk or doing something wrong that he has to walk and the ones doing good can ride. My view is if we can’t do it for the kids at risk and need a ride, I can’t vote for any of them.”