By Steve Hoffman
In what has become an annual occurrence, officials from the Avon Grove Charter School appeared in front of the Oxford School Board to share concerns about the busing of charter school students who live in the Oxford area. Specifically, the concerns are related to overcrowding on the buses, the circuitous routes that the buses take to transport students, and how long the ride to and from school is for some youngsters.
On Nov. 15, Avon Grove Charter School CEO Dr. Kevin Brady appealed to Oxford officials to find a solution for these issues.
“What we’ve seen is a trend that Avon Grove Charter School students…are on the bus longer and are on crowded buses,” Brady said, adding that the charter school hired a consultant two years ago to develop a plan that would improve the busing situation for charter students. The results of that plan were never implemented.
Oxford officials quickly responded. School Board President Jason Brady acknowledged that bus rides are long, but pointed out that that’s inevitable when students from Oxford are being bused that far away from their homes. He said that a school board member recently rode an Avon Grove Charter School bus to gain a clearer understanding of the situation, and the findings that came out of that bus ride differ from what the charter school is claiming.
For example, Jason Brady noted that the charter school claims that 73 students are assigned to ride Bus Number 68. But on the day that the school board member rode the bus, there were only 42 students on the bus.
Kevin Brady countered that that doesn’t take into account the number of students who may not have been on the bus that particular day because of field trips or after-school activities.
Addressing the issue of how long students are on the bus, Jason Brady said that it took 15 minutes for the bus to travel from the school to the first stop. Naturally, rides are going to be lengthened as a result of the distance between the school and the students’ homes in Oxford.
Jason Brady noted also that Oxford spends much more per student to bus an Avon Grove Charter school kid–$930—than it does on its own students—just $387.
When Kevin Brady disagreed with the statistics being presented by the Oxford School Board, it appeared as if progress on the issue was unlikely.
But then Oxford School Board Vice President Joe Scheese, who happened to be the one who took the test ride on the bus, offered a possible solution. He suggested that a committee be formed with representatives from each school district that sends children to the Avon Grove Charter School to study the possibility of reaching an agreement whereby the charter school itself would take over the responsibility for overseeing the busing of students. The charter school could contract with a busing company and plot out the bus routes, just as any regular school district does. There would also have to be an agreement in place with regard to the funding for these busing services. Presumably, the home districts would still be financially responsible for providing transportation because that’s a normal requirement in this state.
Scheese noted that if the charter school contracted for its own busing services, the routes could be more sensibly planned, which would decrease the amount of time that students spend on a bus each day.
“If you were doing your own busing, you could figure all that out,” Scheese said.
Kevin Brady was enthusiastic about the idea.
“We would be excited about entertaining this,” he said. “That’s a very enlightened and far-reaching solution. We’re very happy about the board being willing to pursue this.”
In other business, Superintendent Dr. Raymond Fischer reported that the teachers’ survey that took district officials nearly a year to reach an agreement about did not go over well when it was administered last month. The district contracted with a company to send out nearly 300 surveys to current professional staff members, as well as another, smaller group of teachers who retired at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. The purpose of the survey was to allow district officials to gauge the school climate in the respective buildings.
But the teachers’ union did not support the survey when it was still being planned and a large majority of the teachers opted not to respond to the anonymous survey.
“We received back 24 e-mailed responses and 3 mailed responses,” Fischer said.
That’s a 9.1 percent participation rate and Jason Brady observed that while some useful information from the survey could be gleaned, the sample was too small to draw any real conclusions.
Brady appointed board members Joe Scheese, Sharon Grasty, Dominic Pirocchi, and Christine Peabody to the nominating committee that will determine who gets nominated for leadership positions when the school board reorganizes on Monday, Dec. 5.