Monday, March 17, 2008

Running from responsibility

This picture is of MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden turning her back on Nashville Channel 5's Phil Williams as he tries to get answers from our School Board Chair about what MNPS is going to do to ensure the safety of children, specifically special needs children, on school buses.

Our chief investigator Phil Williams went to the school board looking for answers.

"I'd like to talk to you about the sexual assaults," Williams told board chairwoman Marsha Warden.

Warden suddenly turned and walked away. "I'm sorry. I can't talk about that, OK?"

"Why not?" Williams asked.

Her answer: "They're minors."

Instead of facing him (and us via the camera), being a leader and addressing the issue or at minimum providing a political answer like "This is a serious issue and we're working on a solution", she runs away under the pretext that she's got to get a meeting started.

Williams didn't ask her about any child in particular. That's just the first excuse that came to mind. She'd be happy to talk about minors that have done well, won awards or are participating in some MNPS backed activity. What she didn't want to talk about is a very messy and serious issue that demands her full attention. Her first responsibility to these children is their safety. If there is a gag order from Metro Legal covering the entire issue of school bus safety, she should have been honest and said so. But if there is, it's one that needs to be broken. One lawsuit, which could take years to litigate should not shut down legitimate discussion of the whole issue.

Is there any wonder why she has 5 opponents in the upcoming election?

If you missed the report you can view it at NewsChannel 5.


Nashteach said...

This school bus situation is INEXCUSABLE. No child should have to ride to and from school in fear, and I resent the notion that some children's safety is more "special" than others. If 2-4 rapes had happened to adults on MTA buses, the city's reaction would have been stark. Sweeping this under the rug by not addressing it is criminal!!!

It also is connected to our dropout rate, our loss of students to alternatives, discipline problems within the chools, truancy. On and on...

Kay Brooks said...

I agree, they should all be safe.

I suggested back two years ago when I was running for BOE that it might be better, considering the number of bus accidents we were paying for, if we shouldn't have a second adult on every bus. That way the driver could pay attention to the road and the 2nd adult could be paying attention to the children. I had already asked at a BOE meeting for the legal department to provide information on just how many accidents had occurred, how much money had to be paid out and what had happened to the bus drivers--disciplinewise. They managed to never get around to it before I left.

That second adult could also save considerable transportation costs by enabling a larger variety of age groups to be on the bus together.

After all of this I'd seriously consider riding shotgun with the bus driver to ensure the bus my child takes IS safe--if we continued to use the bus at all.

You can't compel people to have their children attend school and not ensure they are safe.

Wendy said...

There are a number of incidents on buses that would have had better out-comes had there been another adult on the bus. Channel 5 should be asking the Transportation Department some of the questions too, not just Marsha Warden.

Joshua started riding a Spec. Ed bus in 2002 with an Ed Assist on the bus and that continued through the end of the school year 2005. This was extremely effective in his education and behavior modifications. After the failed tax referendum, some Ed Assistants were pulled off of the buses and some of them were out of a job altogether. (I voted against the tax referendum for a multitude of reasons; knowing what I know now, I'm not sure how I would have voted could I turn back the hands of time.)

I think it would be prudent of us to consider some kind of extra support on our buses. I.E.P. plans could include interventions during that time, so there is a continuium of support from home, bus, school, bus, and home. It makes less sense to expect school bus drivers to apply I.E.P. plans and safely drive the bus. They really can't effectively do two jobs at once.

During my time on FACE, we met with Transportation and we agreed that with so many of our Special Needs children on buses that drivers had to have the ability to call 911 and not wait their turn on the walkie-talkie system. We were able to get that on the Special Ed buses, but not on all buses. I can't remember how much it costs us, but I think it was $10/month per cell phone--the one provided by Metro.

Another problem that came up during our discussions with Transportation was that around 80 bus drivers were absent each day. That meant that either bus drivers had to run their route and the absent bus drivers route next, or try and get qualified substitute drivers. Our Spec. Ed bus drivers have the Class D certification on their license and they receive extra training to meet the needs of their children. With an Ed. Assistant on the bus, any driver could drive the bus and the Ed. Assistant could provide the necessary accomadations that the children needed.

Another issue to examine is how we pay bus drivers. All Special Ed bus drivers are paid a full-time salary, regardless if they work a full eight hour day because they are always on-call. Instead of paying them to stay by the phone at home, couldn't we utilize their time in our schools?


din819go said...

Wendy -- While I don't disagree with putting an extra adult on the buses that transport special ed kids, I am unwilling to pay for it with additional money coming into the system and not going to the classroom.

I like Kay's idea of having an extra adult on all buses so we can combine kids and run full buses. With fewer bus runs surely the district can save money in the transporation department. The question is can we save enough money in the transportation department to do this?

If not, what other non-classroom programs, staff, purchases that are duplicative, etc. be eliminated from the budget in order to fund this initiative? This initiative might help kids come to school calm and ready to learn rather than fearing the bus ride to and from school each day.

Just my two cents worth --

Nashteach said...

Just to reinforce, as a classroom teacher, I fully advocate getting more money to classrooms and less at Central Office. I do not see getting more adults on buses as a waste of money one bit. I do resent class sizes rising when we get expensive automated phone systems, more and more "specialists" in Central office, moronic vocabulary "books," but I would fully approve this expenditure and accept sacrifices to see it happen. Of course, I'm a Metro parent, too.

Filling the buses better would be good, but the way the grades and start times for schools is arranged, I don't see MNPS putting first graders and 10th graders on the same bus. That just doesn't make sense. Combining routes for the same school makes sense.

Eighty absent bus drivers/day is 15% absenteeism. Yikes. I wonder if that's a height, like during flu season, or if it's an average.

Kay Brooks said...

The staggered start times came up while I was on the school board. The staggered times were what was needed in order to keep the older children from being on the buses with younger children. MNPS couldn't afford enough buses do get everyone there at the same time and so they created the staggered start times.

Adult supervision on the bus, consolidation of need to stagger start times of school.

din819go said...

Kay -- Thanks - I agree that staggered start times are no longer needed with an extra adult on the buses. I believe there is a way to eliminate expenses (hmmm...combining buses means fewer buses run, fewer drivers, less fuel cost, less insurance and benefits, yep...a good place to start saving), eliminating manadatory programs to be bought by all schools - even those that don't use them, purchasing supplies for one school while another has excess and should be able to share (Title I stuff), etc. I believe one could find most of the money needed to combine buses routes, eliminate staggered start times and put another adult on the bus...all within the existing system...without impacting the classroom...

Just need someone to get creative, think outside of the box and see what they can come up with... start would be the return to neighborhood schools...

Wendy said...

I still say, Channel 5 should be asking questions of the Transportation Department and Metro's Union.

The 15% absenteeism - 80 bus drivers per day - was the average...if I recall that was Spring 2006 when FACE members met with Transportation. Apparently, medical insurance is only available during the school year and so some of the absences are from planned surgeries and other planned leaves.

I liked the extra adult being an Educational Aid, because they had knowledge of I.E.P.s of the students on the buses. It was the most effective and efficient way to keep those interventions in place. The Aids already had established relationships with the children, so if there was a sub driver it didn't negatively impact the students. It also filled out the day for the Educational Aid and provided them with full-time employment. Yes, I agree this is something worth looking into for all of our buses.

I know that my educational experience is a poor comparison, but in Solanco they still have the same schedule for staggered start times as when I was in school. Elementary begins/ends at 9:00AM - 4:00PM, Middle School begins at 7:45AM - 2:45PM and Sr. High at 8:00AM - 3:00PM. Middle (6-8) shares the bus with the Sr. high children. There are also a few "late" buses that pick up at 4:45PM at Middle School and 5:00PM at the high school thus allowing children to participate in after school activities.

Again, I know it is a poor comparison because Solanco is a rural community with very few children attending alternatives to the public schools--yes, there are Amish schools—and a school board that can raise their own tax revenues. I had the same bus driver from Kindergarten to my senior year, “Stiffy” Stauffer and he was a personal friend of my parents—there was no way I was going to get away with shenanigans on the bus. The buses were independently owned and operated, there were not owned by the school district. Just like Mr. Stauffer knowing all of the parents of the children on his bus, we knew all the bus drivers and the community held them personally responsible for keeping peace on the buses and for the upkeep.