Activity Bus Vote
By Alex Saitta
November 8, 2014
I updated this with video excerpts from the meeting.
At the August 25th Pickens County School board meeting the board approved buying two new activity buses for $252,000. (Shelton, Edwards, Cooper, Swords voted for, Saitta and Gillespie against.) The buses will be paid for out of the general fund reserve (savings).
Activity buses are the white buses the school district owns and uses for field trips and sporting events, not the yellow buses the state owns and are used to get children to and from school.
The fleet of activity buses are getting older and a couple are very old, so the majority wanted to buy two new ones. The administration supports a regular program of periodic bus purchases.
With a fleet of 18 activity buses, Jimmy Gillespie opposed the purchase, because he felt there wasnít enough scrutiny of the use of the buses and maybe too many activities were taking place to require such a large fleet.
I opposed the proposal for a variety of reasons.
District savings are already low -- the board practically wiped out its savings, voting to spend $3 million in January, and another $500,000 in March. Spending more savings at this time is unwise.
If two of the activity buses are beyond repair, park them, and ask the principals to manage the situation with 16 buses. Like Gillespie said, do slightly less activities away from school, and spend more time in school teaching reading and math.
The board just passed a $105 million budget ó the largest ever. I suggested reduce something in the budget less important, and use that money to pay for the two new buses. Donít touch the districtís savings account as we try to build it back up.
Realizing the majority was determined to get into the savings account again, I said, well then, if you are going to spend the money, spent it spend it directly on educating students, not a low priority like activity buses.
The percentage of students at grade level in math and English is only 75%. PASS scores fell this past year too. Thatís the first time in a while.
Decisions were recently made by the administration to allow schools to use classroom teacher slots for instructional coaches (teacher coaches); use classroom teacher slots for graduation coaches; to shift some Reading Intervention and Ignite teachers who work directly with students over to Reading Coaches (more teacher coaches). All these moves reduced the number of teachers directly instructing students, and this trend must be reserved.
Finally, I argued, there were significant gains made by the Six Mile charter school. Our district is now in competition with charters, as we compete over students and the state funding that follows them. Their PASS scores rose 3 points. Ours fell 2 points. This will make it harder for us to attract back the 120 students we lost and we are likely to lose more if we donít keep pace academically.
Next year a new charter school is schedule to open in Easley ó more competition.
Regardless, the board was determined to spend savings, and spend it on a non-academic item, so I voted against the proposal. In the end, when money is limited and savings are low, you need to protect what savings you have for an emergency, try to build it back up, and when you do spend any of that money, make sure it is spent on your top priorities.