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Questions arise about costs of schoolbuses in a shrinking Fayette budget

With deep budget cuts facing the Fayette County School System, the numbers and costs associated with the familiar yellow schoolbus have come up.

The issue came up in the public comments portion of a recent meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education about the number of monitors on special education buses.

That comment is akin to another question that has surfaced in a number of past meetings where school system finances are concerned: how many schoolbuses and bus drivers does Fayette County have, how much of that expense is covered by the state and how many bus routes does the system use to transport students to class?

Information supplied by the Fayette County School System showed that the system has a total of 284 buses and maintains 205 bus routes. The remaining 79 buses are either spares or surplused.

Similarly, the school system employs 205 bus drivers. That number has sometimes been brought up in the past by members of the public in terms of potential cost saving measures since the Georgia Dept. of Education pays for only 92 of the 205 positions.

Fayette County schoolbuses log approximately 1.72 million miles during the 180-day school year.

Asked about the school system’s special education buses, spokesperson Melinda Berry-Dreisbach said 45 of the buses are used for special education buses and, of those, 43 have monitors.

Pertaining to bus monitors, the school system maintains that, “Monitors are needed to care for the special needs students on their buses. The IEP (Individual Education Plan) requires a monitor. The bus driver needs help loading and unloading wheelchair-bound students. Pre-K students need help getting in their seat and being buckled up. Some students need guiding to their seat. The monitors watch for seizures and any unusual behavior. Just as the special needs teacher needs help in the classroom with the students, so does the bus driver on the bus.”

Questions about the number of buses and bus drivers, and even the number of bus routes, has surfaced in some public comments in relation to potential cost-cutting measures that could be instituted in face of an estimated $10 million shortfall facing members of the Fayette County Board of Education as they look to ways to either increase revenues or trim expenses in order to adopt a balanced budget in time for the beginning of the next school year on July 1.

It should be noted that despite any potential action pertaining to reducing the number of bus drivers or bus routes, such measures could in no way offset the looming financial shortfall. Nor would a combination of other possible cost-saving measures currently being examined such as reducing the school calendar and closing two elementary schools and one middle school. Unless the unexpected occurs, the school board will be faced with finding even more ways to reduce expenditures.

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