School buses

As they head into their planning retreat this weekend, the Rome City Schools board will be focusing on coming into compliance with a February audit from the Georgia Department of Transportation that will end the system’s 35-year partnership with the city bus service.

The main issue facing the city schools and government is the approaching Aug. 1 deadline and the federal government not allowing an extension so guidelines can be met. Superintendent Lou Byars told the board during their called meeting Monday that the GDOT consultant has been unable to get the system an extension so they can come into compliance.

“We have to make a decision this weekend,” Byars told the board. “We are running out of time.”

To come into agreement with regulations the school system will have to lease or buy buses, hire drivers, build a facility to maintain them and hire maintenance staff, all by Aug. 1 unless an extension is granted. Byars told the board he has concerns for the safety of their students and a wrong move could leave the system open to lawsuits.

“There are no good scenarios” Byars said. “We can’t make that transition.”

Board Member John Uldrick asked Byars when a decision needs to be made so the school system can implement a plan. Byars said this weekend is the deadline for the board to come up with a plan and will present all of his findings to them during this weekend’s planning session.

“We keep running round and round in a circle,” Board Chair Faith Collins said. “It is time for us to get off of that circle and make some decisions.”

“Every time I think we’ve got somewhere to go, we get pushed back,” Byars said.

Byars will present board members with the cost of buying city buses outright with the caveat some city bus drivers may not follow the buses, leaving the system with the responsibility of hiring and training new drivers. Byars said he is pursuing options but isn’t sure which one will be best for the school board at this time.

Ray Boylston of RLS Inc., was assigned last week by the GDOT as an independent contractor to help the city sort out how to come into compliance with the GDOT audit. According to Byars and City Manager Sammy Rich, Boylston agrees that the Aug. 1 deadline is unrealistic, however he has not been able to get the city an extension. Boylston is the one who reported to the GDOT that the contract between the city and the school system was not in compliance and needed to be terminated.

The Rome City Schools board will depart for the Forrest Hills Resort and Conference Center near Dahlonega on Friday where they will spend two days discussing their transportation and budget for next school year.