Parents maintain eliminating bus route would cause hardship
Potentially removing a bus route from Belvidere’s Marshall Road area has left parents there upset about whether their children will be abruptly transferred to school in Huntland.
About 25 parents and children from the area attended Monday’s Franklin County Board of Education meeting to air their concerns.
The board agreed not to take any immediate action and will look at other options, considering the matter further at its regular July 14 meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the school system’s administration building at 215 S. College St., Winchester. The board also has a work session scheduled at 6:30 p.m. on July 7 at the administration building.
Derrick Crawford, 758 Marshall Road, was a designated speaker, representing the parents as a group.
He told the board it would be a great hardship to uproot 13 students who’ve been in Franklin County High, South Middle and Broadview Elementary schools an extended time period.
Crawford said some students are in advanced placement classes and are taking college courses that are not offered at Huntland.
He also said it would be detrimental to have students at their respective schools pulled out to begin attending classes at Huntland. He added that they’ve developed friendships and have strong connections to their current educational surroundings.
Dr. Rebecca Sharber, director of schools, said the proposal to remove the bus route is a budget matter, and the school system has requested the Franklin County Commission approve a 7-cent property tax increase to balance the school system’s finances.
Dr. Ellis Counts, transportation/safety director, said two other buses that go to Huntland are in the Marshall Road area.
He added that Franklin County’s north section has a bus shortage, and the one serving the Marshall Road area could be put to better use there. He said Marshall Road area students have access to the buses that go to Huntland anyway.
Kevin Caroland, board chairman, said that although the school system doesn’t have set-in-stone residential requirements, determining what schools children will attend, the Marshall Road area students are in the Huntland school zone. He added that if parents there want their children to continue attending FCHS South Middle and Broadview, they could drive them there.
Several parents said they have working schedules that would prohibit them from being able to drive their children to school. The requested the board to consider other options and said they were willing to chip in financially to keep the current bus in place.
Caroland said the school system could not legally accept contributions from parents toward busing students.
Crawford said the cost to continue with the bus is minimal, compared to the negative impact it would have on the students if they had to go to school in Huntland.
“Forty-three hundred dollars is not a lot to spend on 13 kids,” he said, comparing the annual expense to the school system’s $42.39 million overall budget.
In an attempt to reach a compromise that might stand a better chance at being accepted by the County Commission, the Board of Education unanimously agreed recently to ask for a 7-cent property tax increase to balance its budget.
The board has been trying to develop a budget that will have at least $2.4 million as a reserve fund balance at the end of June to carry over into the new fiscal year.
School Board members said the money is needed to ensure no financial shortfalls occur.
The ideal reserve fund number, according to board members, would be $3 million.
However, an option the board was looking at to reach that number would have involved a 33-cent tax increase — an $82.50 annual property tax increase on a $100,000 home, or $6.87 added to a monthly mortgage escrow account payment.
Instead, the 7-cent tax increase would cost an additional $17.50 annually — $1.45 monthly — upping the current $667.50 property tax bill on a $100,000 home to $685.
The budget request the School Board approved includes keeping Franklin County High School’s block class schedule and paying an annual bonus to full-time certified employees working 260 days a year who would be having their insurance paid at 90 percent by the school system for single coverage instead of the full amount.
Classified employees, such as in food service who work 180 days a year for the school system, have been getting 90 percent of their monthly insurance premiums paid while full-time certified employees, working 260 days a year, have had their insurance paid at 100 percent.
The Affordable Care Act is requiring that employees be compensated at the same level.
The board also approved Monday to place all employees at the 90 percent level. Estimates are that it would save about $300,000 annually.
Board member Chris McDonough has said it would be penalizing employees who have been at the 100 percent level because they would have to make up a $54 monthly difference.
The board agreed the bonus money would pick up the $54 monthly gap for current system teachers. However, newly hired employees would not get the bonus.
The board has discussed reducing Franklin County High School’s block class schedule to seven periods a day to save money amid tight financial times, but several county commissioners who will be voting to fund the system said at a recent meeting to leave it as is.
Sharber has said the system hasn’t had an increase in annual appropriations from the commission in 10 years. She said that, although state law requires the system of have at least $1.2 million in reserve status, the board has had to dip further into its savings during the past several years to balance the school system budget, which is estimated to total $42.39 million.
Estimates are that changing from a high school block schedule to seven periods a day would save about $250,000 annually by reducing 14 employee positions through attrition, relocation at other system schools and retirement.
Sharber has said no one would be losing their job.
She has said Huntland had made a similar change, and FCHS will be faced with the same problem next year.