Transportation occupied a significant portion of the Rome City Schools’ board retreat in Dahlonega Friday and Saturday.
Several options were laid out for the board to consider, however due to time constraints and a full agenda the decision was made to call a board meeting Tuesday to make a final decision on how to handle the system’s bus routes.
The city government and school system were made aware in February that because of a 2018 Georgia Department of Transportation audit, the 35-year contract allowing city buses to transport RCS students would come to an end. Since then the two organizations have been working together to come up with a solution before the deadline of Aug. 1.
Four options were presented to the board, who will need to make a decision regarding using city buses to transport students to and from school. Rome City Schools could continue using city buses to transport students so long as they come into compliance with GDOT regulations. To come into compliance, school bus stops would have to become public bus stops, which technically at the moment they are.
According to Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars, the way to make the GDOT happy in the short term is to make school bus stops into city bus stops. Two rows in the bus would have to remain open in case any member of the public wanted to ride a bus. The school system will place a member of the staff on board each bus to maintain student safety, he said.
“This pathway is the compliance pathway,” Byars said. “We are trying to look at every option, all the ‘what ifs’ that are out there.”
Byars said the plan to come into compliance is not a permanent solution but rather a temporary one to keep the buses running until the system can find a permanent solution.
Board members seemed split on this move including Elaina Beeman, who told the board she was not comfortable with having the public and students sharing the same bus.
Other temporary options Byars laid out for the board included hiring leased buses from a third party such as First Student Charter Bus Rental. Another option would be to buy the Rome Transit Department buses from the City of Rome and refurbish them to look like school buses. The final option Byars suggested was to continue asking the respective state and federal transportation authorities for more time and continue as is while the school system acquires second-hand buses from other systems in the state.
Pricing was a drawback with hiring a third party as well as buying buses from the City of Rome. With 26 routes, prices range between $2.25 million to $3 million, depending on how many buses would be owned by the school system and the third party. The system would still have to provide a maintenance facility to service the buses. If the system bought 28 RTD buses it would cost $1.5 million plus an additional $10,000 to $15,000 to paint them yellow and install safety signals.
Byars said he was confident with asking for an extension and buying buses until time runs out, putting that option forward as his recommendation. Board Chair Faith Collins said she did not agree with this option, stating she did not want to purchase buses other school systems didn’t want anymore.
Board members discussed all four options at length during both days of their retreat and decided to finish discussions during their called board meeting Tuesday. The time has not been announced yet.
The school board also discussed budget, policy changes, capital funding, safety as well as security during their two-day retreat, but did not vote on any of the topics.
According to Byars the total cost of the retreat was approximately $250 a person and an estimated $2,500 total.