BOE mulls three­tier trans­porta­tion, Sharp al­ter­na­tive

The Covington News - - Front page - By Am­ber Pittman apittman@cov­news.com

In an ef­fort to cut costs from the 2011-2012 bud­get, the Newton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion has looked at elim­i­nat­ing sev­eral things from the bud­get and tweak­ing oth­ers that could save a sub­stan­tial amount of cash. Two of the biggest cuts that could save the largest amount of money, are shut­ting Sharp Learn­ing Cen­ter in fa­vor of a dif­fer­ent al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion and mov­ing to a three-tier trans­porta­tion pro­gram.

Sharp Learn­ing Cen­ter vs. Om­buds­man

In an ef­fort to save $1,941,962, one op­tion on the po­ten­tial list of bud­get cuts is to elim­i­nate Sharp Learn­ing Cen­ter and part­ner with a busi­ness called Om­buds­man. The hope is that a dif­fer­ent set­ting for an al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion will do for Newton County stu­dents what it has for stu­dents in sur­round­ing coun­ties, which is in­crease the grad­u­a­tion rate and suc­cess­fully move stu­dents back into their home school.

Om­buds­man cur­rently part­ners with 23 school dis­tricts in Ge­or­gia, with 46 cen­ters through­out the state. If ap­proved, there would be two cen­ters opened in Newton County. Ac­cord­ing to statis­tics, 85 per­cent of the stu­dents re­ferred to the pro­gram grad­u­ate. Sharp had 50 per­cent of their se­niors grad­u­ate last year.

Stu­dents at Sharp also had a high fail­ure rate in last year’s end-of-course and CRCT tests. In the end-of­course tests 93 per­cent of stu­dents failed in math I, 83 per­cent in math II, 91 per­cent in U.S. his­tory, 53 per­cent in phys­i­cal sci­ence and 58 per­cent in lit­er­a­ture/ com­pre­hen­sion. In CRCTs, sixth through eighth grade stu­dents at Sharp failed by 56 per­cent in math, 24 per­cent in read­ing and 93 per­cent failed their math re­take tests.

With Om­buds­man, stu­dents tra­di­tion­ally av­er­age over a year’s worth of aca­demic growth in read­ing, math, lan­guage arts and writ­ing. The or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fers state test prepa­ra­tion and in­ten­sive math and read­ing re­me­di­a­tion. They also of­fer aca­demic coun­sel­ing and a self-paced cur­ricu­lum, in three to four hour ses­sions (with three dif­fer­ent start times) Mon­day through Fri­day.

Ad­di­tion­ally, there were 97 stu­dents with five or more con­sec­u­tive ab­sences at Sharp last year, while

Om­buds­man has an 89 per­cent av­er­age at­ten­dance rate. Also, Sharp re­quires se­cu­rity of­fi­cers and Om­buds­man does not.

“Nat­u­rally, this is an emo­tional is­sue,” said Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Gary Mathews. “But, based on Sharp’s re­sults on Ge­or­gia as­sess­ments, grad­u­a­tion rates, and 97 stu­dents with 5 or more con­sec­u­tive ab­sences, I do not be­lieve the Sharp data sup­ports the ex­pen­di­ture for Sharp. On the other hand, Om­buds­man en­joys much more pos­i­tive stu­dent achieve­ment re­sults, a higher grad­u­a­tion rate and at­ten­dance rates bor­der­ing on 90 per­cent. Ad­di­tion­ally, be­hav­ior data for Sharp is quite dis­ap­point­ing, es­pe­cially when com­pared to the feed­back we’ve got­ten from users of the Om­buds­man pro­gram,” said Mathews, who vis­ited Om­buds­man sites in other coun­ties prior to sug­gest­ing board mem­bers con­sider the pro­gram.

Three-tier trans­porta­tion

Switch­ing to a three-tier trans­porta­tion pro­gram would save the sys­tem $1,477,441, but it would also elim­i­nate sev­eral trans­porta­tion po­si­tions, in­clud­ing 44 bus driv­ers, 25 sub­sti­tute bus driv­ers and one me­chanic. How­ever, it would save money by re­duc­ing the cost of fleet in­surance and fuel con­sump­tion.

With the pro­posed sys­tem, ele­men­tary, mid­dle and high school stu­dents would all ride their own buses, whereas now, mid­dle and high school stu­dents are bused to­gether. It would also have stag­ger­ing start and stop times at the schools which would dif­fer from what they now are.

In ele­men­tary school, stu­dents would be dropped off at 7:40 a.m. and picked up at 2:10 p.m., in­stead of dropped off at 7:15 a.m. for a school day that starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m. Mid­dle and high school stu­dents cur­rently ar­rive be­tween 7:45 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. for a school day that starts at 8:30 a.m. Their days end at 3:30 p.m. and the buses head for homes at ap­prox­i­mately 4:40 p.m. Un­der the new plan, mid­dle school stu­dents would start school at 9 a.m. and end at 4:15 p.m., and high school would start at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m.

The goals would be, along with sav­ing over $1.4 mil­lion, that mid­dle school stu­dents would have their own bus, ride time for mid­dle and high school stu­dents would be re­duced, it would im­prove stu­dent dis­ci­pline, al­ter­na­tive school stu­dents would have their own bus, there would be ad­e­quate buses for ball games and field trips, it would cre­ate four trans­porta­tion dis­tricts to im­prove cus­tomer ser­vice and com­mu­ni­ca­tion and it would re­duce or elim­i­nate the dou­bling up of buses for driver ab­sen­teeism and/or bus break­down, ac­cord­ing to a re­port given to the board.

It would also save $3,960,000 in fu­ture bus re­place­ment costs by re­duc­ing the fleet by 44 buses since the es­ti­mated price per bus is ap­prox­i­mately $90,000.

The board will con­tinue to dis­cuss these, as well as a va­ri­ety of other is­sues, as they try to elim­i­nate the $9 mil­lion nec­es­sary to the school sys­tem’s bud­get. A pub­lic meet­ing will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Al­covy High School where Mathews will dis­cuss the bud­get and ask for pub­lic in­put.

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