HALIFAX– On Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, the Halifax Elementary School Committee began with a walk-through of the school (see accompanying article). Next, chair Summer Schmaling quickly went through the posted agenda until a major point of concern came up.
First, Principal Kayne Beaudry announced that enrollment at HES was 614 students for the upcoming school year. He, and Assistant Principal Brian Desantes noted some of the pressures this creates.
“First and second grade were hit really hard,” said Desantes, adding that, “We’re approaching 25 students per room.”
Beaudry stated that with families moving in and out of town, there was a net gain of about 20 students.
This increase in students not only puts pressure on teachers in the classroom but affects the busing schedule as well.
Superintendent Joy Blackwood said that the SLRSD leases nine buses, all but one shared with the rest of the district– Kingston pays for one extra bus due to their population. Each bus has a 77-seat capacity, at three students per seat, she said, and a bus costs $56,000 per year to lease.
Adding a bus, even one that’s shared, is expensive, she noted, so she’d like to negotiate a 10-year contract that would even out expenses over time if a bus needs to be added. Not only would that save money, but the SLRSD would get new busses and four would be larger capacity busses, she says.
There were difficulties negotiating the last one-year contract. “I had to beg,” she added.
Blackwood also stated that by law a seat must be held on a bus for all 614 students enrolled at the school, even those that are regularly driven to school, because the district is obligated to transport students every day, but parents aren’t obligated to drive their children every day.
“Where along in the process did we know we had a bus problem?” asked Alex Meade, a school committee member.
Beaudry responded that enrollment numbers are constantly fluctuating.
Another issue affecting HES is accommodating busing “special requests,” where students take one bus to school in the morning and another one to a different address in the afternoon.
As students enroll, and enrollment numbers are collected, they are entered into PowerSchool, the school’s management software.
Then, the bus contracting company, First Student, creates the routes from that data. Only then can special requests be accommodated.
Beaudry says that he has accommodated all two-bus requests– with just one morning and afternoon switch.
Meade didn’t think the school needed to accommodate these special requests at all. “I don’t see the need to honor any of these requests,” he said.
“I tend to agree,” replied Beaudry, but then said, “We want to help and accommodate what we can.”
Bus problems have plagued the town for years, said Schmaling. She said she has heard complaints from parents about students having rides that are too long, busses that are too full as well as busses that arrive too early and sit in front of the school.
Beaudry says that staff tries to address this each year by collecting the times buses arrive and leave and working with First Student to address any issues.