‘It came out of nowhere:’ Parents shocked over cuts in Blount County Schools bus service
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In light of an apparent miscommunication with parents concerning a reduction in bus service, Blount County Schools will evaluate its communication procedures.
The school district is open Friday, but its 73 regular education buses won’t run. Only the district’s special education buses will run Friday. It’s the first of four days this year without regular education bus service.
School officials posted notice about the budget decision on its website, and principals were tasked with sharing the information with their families. However, some parents didn’t learn about the decision until the past couple of weeks.
Amy Reed, the mother of two elementary-schoolers who ride the school bus, didn’t learn about the district’s four days without bus service until last week.
“It was extremely shocking,” she said. “It came out of nowhere. I wish that they would’ve sent out a letter to parents last year (when the school board started discussions about reducing the number of regular education bus transportation days). If I had a fair amount of notice, I could have worked out something ahead of time.”
The lack of bus transportation poses challenges for Reed and her husband. “Both of us work in the day. I can drop them off on the way to work, but we can’t leave work to pick them up. My husband might have to take off for one hour of paid time. We’ll have to look at taking personal time or half days in the future. We might be able to get somebody else to help us, but it’s not right to have to ask them.”
School officials should consider sending home a parent survey about budget issues in the future, she said. “We’ve never been asked to complete one, but it would help both of us (Blount County Schools and its families). We want what’s best for kids.”
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Some families who weren’t directly affected by the decision expressed concerns about the decisions, as well.
“We aren’t affected by it, but I feel for the families who live on Laws Chapel and Top O’ the World,” said Virginia Waters, who regularly picks up a school-age grandchild. “It’d be a long drive to school. I also feel for the families who only have one car. They’re going to miss school.”
“A lot of families depend on buses, and I would have been shocked if I was a bus parent,” said Idamay Wooten, who regularly picks up her fourth-graders. “I don’t think they should be counted absent. They weren’t (counted absent) in the past.”
Wooten, who tried to follow the district’s budget process, knew that regular education bus transportation days might be reduced. However, she wasn’t aware that any days were actually cut until last week.
She learned about their elimination through Eagleton Elementary School’s Facebook page. “I don’t get a chance to attend board meetings or visit the Central Office. I also don’t see a lot of news except on Facebook.”
The district should consider expanding its social media presence, Wooten said. “(Eagleton Elementary School Principal) Buffy Wyrosdick is doing a great job keeping us informed. I feel like I’m more in tune with what’s going on than previous school years, and the Facebook page is a big part of it.”
School officials are assessing the district’s communications with stakeholders, said Director of Schools Rob Britt. “We’re talking with parents, talking with the Parent Advisory Committee. They’re helping us to identify areas of focus, because we value good communication.”
Blount County Schools will transition to PlanetHS, which is a web-based program composed of scheduling and social media tools that are designed to help teachers communicate with parents, in the near future, he said. The district is further expanding its social media presence, particularly Facebook and Twitter.
Families and their students will soon be able to follow schools and get more instantaneous information, Britt said. “We’re continually working to improve our operations, including communication.”
School officials will also consider distributing parent surveys, he said.