Rome City Schools have called a board meeting Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in the superintendent’s office to discuss their final decision on how to handle the 2019-2020 transportation issue.
The board will go into closed session as soon as the meeting begins to discuss property negotiations and after they come out they will hold a public session.
The board decided during their two day planning retreat in Dahlonega this past weekend to hold off on any additional transportation talks including property due to a tight schedule. The board will discuss what temporary or permanent options the system will implement to come into compliance with a Georgia Department of Transportation audit completed in November 2018 and made public in February.
The hard deadline for a plan of action is Wednesday, so whatever the board decides it will have to come from Tuesday’s called board meeting. The deadline set by the Georgia Department of Transportation to be in compliance or to stop running RTD buses is August 1.
The first option, whether permanent or temporary, will be bringing the current bus routes into compliance with GDOT regulations. According to West Evans, attorney for school employed law office Cox, Byington, Twyman & Johnson, LLP, coming into compliance would buy the system much needed time to find other solutions if they choose to.
“Why can’t we just get into compliance,” he said during the weekend retreat. “Why can’t we change these routes so that GDOT is happy while still also being usable for the system and buy us time.”
Bringing the routes into compliance would mean making school bus stops public stops which allows citizens of Rome to ride buses with students. Byars said this way is uncomfortable but it would be no different than students riding the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.
The board could potentially lease buses from a transportation service. This option however could be cheaper annually than the systems annual contract of $1.5 million it pays the city government for use of their buses. First Student Charter Bus Rental would have a three year contract depending on whether or no the school board bought and provided buses or not. The ballpark estimate from First Student is $2.25 million for three years if the board buys and provides the school buses. If the system does not provide the buses the cost is a little over $3 million Byars said.
The board could purchase 28 RTD buses outright which would cost $1.5 million but would then have to retrofit the vehicles for an additional $10,000- $15,000 per bus. Board Chair Faith Collins pointed out the figure provided by the city was close to what the system pays it already every year. This figure includes 2010 model buses which are valued around $25,000 each all the way up to the 2018 model buses which are valued around $100,000, Byars said.
“I can buy 35 brand new buses for $3.2 million,” Byars said.
The system needs at least 30 routes, he said, and currently runs 26 causing overcrowded buses. Either way the buses still need to be bought he said. The final option Byars presented to the board over the weekend was his recommendation which would act a temporary measure until the school system could find a more permanent one.
His recommendation was to continue to seek an extension from state and federal entities and build a fleet of used buses from neighboring systems. These buses are road worthy and could be bought inexpensively, Byars said.
Collins objected stating she did not want Rome City Schools students riding in second hand buses from other school systems. During a break Collins shared with other members that the reason she was so against using used buses was she recalls being bused across town to Midway Elementary School in second hand buses other schools did not want. She said she did not want that for the students of RCS.
The GDOT released findings in February stating the 35-year agreement to allow city transportation to carry city students to school was not in agreement with federal regulations. Since federal money funds RTD the school system will now have to come into compliance or provide buses, bus drivers, mechanics and a storage facility by the GDOT deadline.