School bus operations centralized

NEW CUMBERLAND – Hancock County school bus drivers for Weirton schools will start and end their routes in New Cumberland come next school year.

Superintendent Suzan Smith said she decided it was more cost effective to maintain one bus garage – adjacent to the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center – than keep a second one in Weirton.

“We can’t afford to have several different locations,” Smith told the school board this week. “I think we can be successful with one bus garage.”

The decision to consolidate bus operations just north of New Cumberland, at state Route 2 and Rockyside Road, will affect 14 bus drivers with Weirton routes, she said. There are 41 drivers in the district.

Smith and other central office personnel recently accompanied drivers on those routes to clear up a discrepancy over route times. Starting with the 2014-2015 school year, bus drivers will take students to only one elementary building in Weirton, rather than three, with the opening of the new Weirton Elementary School. Weirton Heights, Broadview and Liberty Elementary schools are closing.

Not all bus drivers are happy with Smith’s decision, however. At this week’s board meeting, bus driver Christina Risk reiterated concerns she and Judy Mullins, president of the Hancock County Educational Support Professional Association, raised in January.

Those concerns have to do with the added drive time, mileage, fuel cost and maintenance requirements associated with relocating to the New Cumberland bus garage, Risk said.

“I feel this decision is the wrong one for the taxpayers, children and parents of Hancock County,” she said.

Risk said she felt Smith didn’t take the bus drivers’ worries seriously and had her mind made up about the issue.

Smith said much larger West Virginia counties have a central bus garage and that it makes sense for Hancock County to do the same thing. Previously, Hancock County had a bus facility next to the old Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton, in addition to the one in New Cumberland.

The school board sold the Weirton property, along with Newell Memorial Field, to the Hancock County commissioners in December 2012. That sale prompted the decision to move the Weirton-based buses, as well as the construction of a new maintenance facility behind the Career Center, Smith said.

Although the board did not act on the bus issue, board President Jerry Durante defended Smith’s decision.

“I can’t believe she would cause an unnecessary expense to Hancock County Schools or that she would jeopardize the safety of the students,” he said.

Also this week, the board:

Accepted the retirements of Oak Glen High School Principal Barbara Logue and Assistant Principal Alice Klakos, both effective June 30.

Learned there will be public tours of the new Weirton Elementary School from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Learned that the students of Allison Elementary School in Chester reached the Million Minutes Reading Challenge by documenting 1,005,730 minutes of reading time this school year.

Authorized the purchase of four new school buses from Heritage Truck Centers at a total cost of $387,616. The district’s bus mechanics will pick up the buses in Tulsa, Okla., when they are ready.

Sent out the Hancock County Schools Wellness Policy for revision.