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School Board Recap: Feedback requested for transportation recommendations
Posted on 11/18/2022
Group Photo of the School Board









To reduce the number of late buses caused by a lack of bus drivers, Roanoke City Public Schools’ Transportation Work Group has created two potential temporary options, with a full report to be presented at the December School Board meeting.

During the November 14 School Board meeting, Chief Operations Officer Chris Perkins presented the options on behalf of the work group. One option would be to move to a three-bell system in January, which would reduce the number of drivers needed per route. The second option is to keep start times the same but open doors earlier for parent drop-off.

“This is a difficult, complex situation…but what we know the reality is, we need to be on time, and people need to know when we’re getting there,” Mr. Perkins said. He noted that the work group was not unanimous on either option.

Currently, there are 287 total bus routes, 144 per bell. Durham School Services currently employs 122 drivers. Moving to a three-bell system would require a total of 96 drivers per bell, which would be more manageable, according to Mr. Perkins.

The presentation indicated the pros of going to a three-bell schedule would allow the extra drivers to be substitutes and potentially shorten routes, which is a sustainable option to address the driver shortage and improve consistency. This option would also relieve school staff from working outside their contracted hours and would provide a cushion on days when there are more driver call-outs.

The exact schedule is yet to be determined, but Mr. Perkins presented a potential schedule during the overview: All but four elementary schools would begin at 7:15 a.m. and dismiss at 2 p.m. Middle schools and the remaining elementary schools would begin at 8:15 a.m. and dismiss at 3 p.m. High schools and programs would begin at 9:15 a.m. and dismiss at 4 p.m. The four elementary schools will be chosen based on the number of routes compared to number of drivers.

Mr. Perkins explained that the major cons of this option would be the impact to middle and high schools because of their later dismissal, especially winter sports when daylight ends early. In addition, this could impact students with jobs. This would also shift the start/end times for staff. Programming for special programs is complex and would result in impacts, too, such as siblings not necessarily staying on the same schedule, Mr. Perkins said.

The second option would be for start and dismissal times to remain the same but opening doors earlier. This would allow families to drop off their students who may not otherwise be able to later in the morning. This is something families have requested, Mr. Perkins said.

Students who enter their school earlier would receive breakfast and could potentially receive extra instructional time. This could also result in improved attendance. Currently, students who miss their bus may miss school altogether. Fallon Park Elementary School successfully operated with this model last year, Mr. Perkins said.

However, this option doesn’t address concerns with afternoon routes. This option would still require additional staff to arrive early and possibly still stay late. It also may be ineffective if Durham has drivers who call out for the day.

School Board member Franny Apel said she favored the three-bell schedule for the consistency. “We cannot adjust to the unknown,” she said. School Board member Natasha Saunders agreed, adding that the second option could cause inequity.

School Board Chair Dr. Eli Jamison asked whether it was possible to consider a three-bell option and opening earlier or staying an hour later at targeted schools, and Superintendent White said the work group will look at that.

The Board will discuss the entire process and potentially make decisions at the December meeting. Families and staff are invited to submit input by emailing [email protected].

UPDATE since November Board Meeting: 
The School Board has scheduled a Workshop for Thursday, December 8th at 3 p.m. in the Media Center of the Central Administration building on Douglass Avenue. This Workshop will be live-streamed on the RCPS Facebook page and a recording will also be available on Facebook following the meeting. No vote will be taken at this meeting.  This meeting will provide an opportunity for the School Board to hear and discuss the Transportation Work Group’s recommendations. It is important to note, the Work Group is bringing forward numerous recommendations, including the options discussed at the November 14th School Board Meeting.

The School Board will accept feedback on all recommendations presented at the December 8th Workshop by emailing [email protected].  Additionally, there will be the opportunity for public comment at the December 13th School Board Meeting, which will be held at 5:30 p.m. at William Fleming High School.

Safety Update: Student IDs

Mr. Perkins also provided the Board and the public with an update on the 25 enhancements to RCPS’ security and safety program that the Board approved over the summer. Most of these enhancements have been completed in a very short time frame, and the remaining measures are currently in the process of being implemented.

As requested by the School Board in July, Mr. Perkins brought additional information regarding expanding the capabilities of the student ID badges during the meeting. He explained that student IDs would allow administrators and staff to know who’s in the building and check to see if they’re in the right spot. Mr. Perkins noted that the school system has a need to ensure RCPS’ youngest students board the right bus. RCPS currently uses a manual system to identify them. Student IDs would automate this process.

IDs would increase safety and security, likely result in more efficient lunch lines, and be used for student check-in and attendance. It could also result in students becoming more involved in the community, because the IDs could double as library cards for the Roanoke Valley Library System and as bus passes for Valley Metro, among other integrations.

Mr. Perkins said other school divisions speak favorably of student IDs and say there is natural accountability built in, so students don’t lose it or otherwise not use it.

Cost estimates range from $77,000 to $425,000, depending on the company, which each offers various benefits. Costs will increase the more integrations that are used.

The recommendation is to roll it out in a phased approach. The Board could vote on this in January or February.

Budget Transfer for Capital Projects

The School Board also unanimously approved a budget transfer request needed to complete current capital projects due to inflation.

Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Jackson provided a recap that she first presented at the October work session. RCPS requested the Board transfer $12 million from the General Fund to the Capital Fund and amend the Capital Fund to fund overages in select projects

Mrs. Jackson anticipated a total of $26 million additional funds needed to complete the various capital projects. A total of $14.2 million is currently available (a combination of Capital Funds not already committed to projects or anticipated savings from grant-funded projects), leaving $12 million in additional funding needed from the General Fund transfer.

2023 Legislative Agenda and Priorities

Constituent Services & Government Relations Officer Dr. Alan Seibert provided an overview of RCPS’ draft legislative priorities for the 2023 General Assembly session, which includes a focus on safety, addressing the teacher shortage, teacher compensation, workforce development, and assessment/accountability modernization.

School Board members praised the document for being so detailed. The Board unanimously approved the priorities, and Dr. Seibert will begin communicating them to legislators. More information can be found by clicking here.

Featured School: Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry High School Principal Dr. Karen Leslie presented information about the school, which was the featured school of the month.

Dr. Leslie shared that administrators have worked on many aspects of the school. For example, more than 50% of teachers have a master’s degree and more than 95% of teachers are experienced. Administrators and staff have ensured curriculum is aligned to Virginia Department of Education Standards. Relationships are also key to student success, and Dr. Leslie said the relationships at Patrick Henry are special.

Administrators have also looked at data and building logistics to focus on movement in building, expectations, and mitigations, which has resulted in a more than 50% decline in negative behaviors. This is associated with a reduction in referrals, suspensions, and repeat behaviors.

Dr. Leslie also spotlighted staff morale, saying that Patrick Henry has worked hard to ensure staff have a voice. Staff are involved in decisions, have the ability to provide feedback, and activities such as get-togethers, food, and contests.

Patrick Henry has also upgraded safety and security measures, particularly related to their crisis plan and after action to discuss what went right/wrong and make changes as needed. “Security is dynamic. It changes as quickly as anything else, so we’re changing with it,” Dr. Leslie said.

The school has also worked to improve student and community involvement, particularly related to afterschool activities. Dr. Leslie reported that Patrick Henry has more clubs now than in the past 20 years.

Recognitions

The School Board recognized the Virginia Association of Defense Attorneys for holding a Winter Coat Drive prior to the association’s annual meeting in Roanoke in October. VADA collected dozens of coats and provided a generous cash donation.

Jeffrey Shawver, Senior Director of Physical Plants for Roanoke City Public Schools, celebrated military retirement after serving 33 years in the Army National Guard and in the United States Navy Reserves. The School Board recognized and honored Mr. Shawver’s service and thanked him for all he does for RCPS.

Public Gifts

The School Board also recognized the following organizations for providing donations:

  • During the Virginia Association of Defense Attorneys’ annual meeting, members presented Roanoke City Schools with a large donation of coats collected for RCPS students. VADA also provided a cash donation of $520.
  • JoAnn’s Fabric and Crafts provided a donation of craft items, blanket kits, and holiday items to Hurt Park Elementary School. The estimated value of the donation was $1,458.29.
  • Brown, Edwards & Company, LLP, donated office supplies, four desks, and six training tables to RCPS. The estimated value of the furniture and supplies is $1,600.
  • Fleet Feet Roanoke provided a donation of shoes for students at Round Hill Elementary.The value of the donation is $10,000.Additionally, Fleet Feet Roanoke provided a donation of 70 pairs of shoes and socks to Hurt Park Elementary valued at $800.
  • The Roanoke Valley Breakfast Lions Club, chaired by Jim Dalton, provided a donation of 700 pairs of socks to Hurt Park Elementary. The estimated value of the socks is $1,000.
  • Second Presbyterian Church donated $1,000 to Highland Park Elementary for miscellaneous school needs.

To replay the November 14th School Board meeting, click here. The next School Board meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13th at William Fleming High School.

40 Douglass Avenue NW, Roanoke, VA 24012 Phone 540-853-2502