Dade Board of Education Meeting: Mostly About Buses

Monday’s meeting of the Dade County Board of Education, combined with a workshop deferred from last week, when it was canceled because of the tropical storm, was brief and unremarkable. Personnel moves announced after a short executive, or closed-door session, were the hiring of Katelin Carter as a first-grade teacher at Davis Elementary, the transfer of John Smith from full-time bus driver to 180-day bus driver/part-time transportation supervisor, and the transfer of Chris Payne from substitute driver to half-time bus driver/bus mechanic.

Dr. Jan Harris, superintendent of schools, reminded all that next week is homecoming at Dade High. There will be a parade on Thursday, Sept. 28, and the homecoming game will be on Friday the 29thth. She said that her office is poised to reveal its yearly annual report on the schools. “In this volume we showcase the myriad accomplishment of our students,” she said.

The super also said the B of E and Dade Chamber of Commerce are co-planning a “State of the Schools” event, which she thinks will be scheduled sometime in October.

Assistant Superintendent Billy Hooker requested and received approval for funds for four new floor buffers for the schools, two at $7240 a pop for the high school and two more for the lower-grade schools at $5525 each. Dr. Harris asked for the board’s approval of a yearly agreement for the school system’s nutrition program to provide breakfast and lunch for Dade Head Start. She explained it was a $38,808 deal but that Head Start reimbursed the school and that federal funds ultimately paid for it.

Dr. Harris and the board approved a walking/running program started by Rhonda Bradford at Dade Elementary that Ms. Bradford wished to institute at Davis Elementary, to which she had transferred. “It doesn’t cost us anything to participate in this but it does create an awareness,” she said. It encourages youngsters to stay fit for life, she said.

The board and Dr. H also gave their blessing to choral teacher Gabrielle’s Hastor’s proposal to take the Dade Middle School chorus on an overnight trip to Nashville this year, where the chorus will perform.

Dr. James Cantrell, who has worn a number of hats in the school system, the latest of which seems to be bus boss, gave the board an exhaustive State of the School Bus update. He presented a bus repair order for a special-needs bus with one engine out, which needed work to the tune of around $8000. The board approved the funds.

Dr. Cantrell said several of Dade’s buses are aging out of their useful life—“Right now we’re 10 buses out of whack”--and noted he was working on an organized replacement plan, whereby some specified number of buses would be changed out every three or so years. He recommended Dade in the future buy smaller buses—72-passenger models as opposed to 90-passenger--with mountain transmissions, which he said cost $88,000. “That’s $16,000 less than you paid for a 90-passenger bus,” he said. Most of Dade’s buses now carry 40 to 50 kids, said Cantrell.

He said bus drivers and riders alike prefer that buses carry only one age group—i.e., high school versus elementary—at a time, but that presently bus routes were geared to make sense geographically as opposed to catering to that preference, as in getting all the kids from a remote mountain neighborhood down to Trenton for class, not just the high schoolers or the middle schoolers.

Cantrell touched on bus safety programs all students are required to complete—“If a bus catches fire, you have three minutes or less to evacuate,” put in Billy Hooker—and said students participate in drills and other safety learning. “We’re trying to teach them not to cross the road without the driver giving them a hand signal,” said Cantrell.

And he asked that the board consider bumping up wages for substitute bus drivers, who are still paid $7.50 an hour. That means they get up at 5 a.m. to work two hours getting Dade’s kids to school and make $15 for their pains, he pointed out. Regular drivers are paid $14.19/hour in Dade, said Cantrell.

Board Chairperson Carolyn Bradford asked Cantrell to compile a profile of all Dade’s buses, when they were purchased and how many miles they had on their odometers.

Billy Hooker updated the board on physical improvements at the schools. Extensive renovation at the high school is substantially complete though there are still bills on the way for the work, he said. Now plans are underway for Davis. “We’re looking at floors and we’re looking at walls,” he said.

And he pointed out that the board needed to start talking again about the cross-country course planned for Dade Middle School. Plans were in the works last year for such a course but the board balked at the price tag.

The Dade County Board of Education will hold its next official meeting on Monday, Oct. 16, after a work session on Thursday, Oct. 12.

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