sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Friday, August 27, 2004

So there a few pissed-off parents at the Guilford County Board of Education meeting. OK, more than a few.

One after another, they stepped to the mike and presented the board with incidents of 12-hour days full of confusion and chaos as their kids tried to navigate the school’s bus hub system. The first kids are still being picked up picked up at 5:55 am, and the last kid is dropped off at 5:50 pm.

The worst story was from one lady who said she had no idea where her daughter was for eight hours. She looked everywhere, but could not find her.

“My daughter was somewhere in Greensboro, and I didn’t know where,” the speaker said.

But it was Harold Parker who really got the crowd rocking with his parting shot at superintendent Terry Grier.

“You hired the superintendent. You can fire the superintendent,” he said.

In response, Grier apologized, once again.

“We’re sorry for the worry and inconvenience we’ve caused,” he said.

So we know there are a lot of pissed-off people. The more important issue was what went wrong and what were they going to do to fix it?

Based on the board’s (with the exception of Kris Cooke) soft questioning of the staff, it appears the school system will stay the course with the hub system and hope all the kinks will work out.

Assistant superintendent John Wright did most of the talking . It was clear the board was reluctant to come down hard on transportation director Jim Moen. If anything, the board was complimentary of the work Moen and his staff had done over the years.

Wright said several factors contributed to the hub dilemma: transportation forms turned into the wrong place, including 600 applications that didn’t make it until the first day of school; staff failure to enter names into the system, lack of understanding of the transportation system and inadequate staff to handle the overwhelming phone calls and e-mails.

But Wright also pointed out that Guilford's a big county with a lot of magent schools. If, as an example, you want to send kids from Gibsonville to Penn-Griffin School, it’s going to take a while.

“How large a magnet zone will you allow and still expect timely transportation?” Wright asked. “You need to have discussions about what you’re willing to do and what you’re willing to pay to do it.”

Board member Anita Sharpe took it a step further. "The problem is greater than transportation,” she said. “This board needs to discuss whether or not we can afford magnet schools.”

But it was Cooke who asked the hard questions. She got a little testy when she started her line of questioning and Grier interrupted her.

“Let me finish,” she said. “This has been building for some time.”

Then she asked Wright what would happen if the school system did away with the hub system.

It would cost about $3 million to buy the buses to handle it, Wright said.

Then Cooke asked how much the system was spending on overtime, canopies, extra phone lines, etc. Wright assured her that those costs were negligible. In other words, a lot less than $3 million.

In the end, the only thing that happened was the board will get an update at its next meeting. So parents, you’re stuck with the hub system. Either roll with it or drive the kids to school yourselves. You can’t change this one, but you can change some things at the ballot box in November.


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