When students show up for the first day of school this year, new starting and ending times will be in effect.
As approved by the school board at their July meeting Thursday:
Elementary Schools start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m.
Middle Schools start at 8:10 a.m. and end at 3:25 p.m.
High School starts at 8:10 a.m. and ends at 3:10 p.m.
The new start times come as part of a massive overhaul of student transportation. The school system plan is to combine and cut some bus routes. Staggered start and end times at schools allow some buses to run more than one route each morning and evening.
Based on discussion at the board meeting, the move will eliminate six buses/drivers and routes saving $120,000 this year. The schools may reap larger savings in future years as more routes can be eliminated. The board has emphasized that no one was fired because of this; all positions were eliminated when employees quit or retired, according to discussion at a previous meeting.
The transportation system has also eliminated some stops, asking students to walk to nearby central stops.
A list of changes on each bus route will be available on the school board website and at each school for open house. Parents are encouraged to find their address on the lists and see if there is a change of bus stop for their children.
Operations Director Lloyd Shaddix said, “There is more involved than starting and ending times. This will improve transportation.”
Transportation Director Bruce Godfrey reported to the board a re-design of routes has been completed. And they will begin spreading information about changes through any available forum. He said the list of all bus routes in the county will show changes in pick-up spots.
“It should be very clear where the stops are,” he said.
Godfrey said all the stops have been carefully reviewed for safety and efficiency. Drivers will be test-driving routes in buses later this week to look for any problems.
“They will take a dry run to look at every stop,” Superintendent Ben Desper said.
Responding to safety concerns expressed by board member Ervin Easterwood, Godfrey said, “There is no such thing as a perfect stop, but we have a whole list of factors we look at for each stop. If we have one that needs to be changed, we will make the changes.”
Board Chair Wendy Lowe asked the staff to make every effort to get information about changes out to all parents. She said being confident everyone is aware of the change is essential.
Board member John Trammell said he recognized that this change was not easy, but ultimately the savings should please the public.
• During his report on facilities, Shaddix reported that through a new contract with Hemlocks Landscaping the grounds at all campuses will look the best they ever have. “You will be pleased when we have the open houses,” he said. “We are improving the curb appeal at all schools.”
He said they are also re-doing gym floors and are nearing completion of a new culinary arts facility at Pickens High.
• Superintendent Ben Desper, who officially began full-time work in July, said he feels he has gotten off to a good start through “generous hospitality” as he continues meeting the staff and community.
• Desper presented a graph showing the declining drop-out rates in Pickens schools. The schools have cut drop-outs from a high of 73 during 2006 down to 11 in the 2011 school year.
“There were a lot of folks doing a lot of hard work to make this happen,” he said. “From the board to teachers,” he said. “I’ll bet any school in Georgia would like to have something like this [chart of the progress].”