No riders: Piedmont children get to school without getting on a bus (Updated)
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Jan 13, 2013 | 5816 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Piedmont Elementary School students begin their journeys home after a recent school day. The school district doesn't run its won transportation system. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Piedmont Elementary School students begin their journeys home after a recent school day. The school district doesn't run its won transportation system. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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Of Alabama’s 134 public school systems, Piedmont’s is one of at most a very few that offer students no transportation between the classroom and home, according to the Alabama Department of Education.

The Piedmont school district has never bused students to and from school. Instead students have walked or they have been taken there by family members or neighbors.

“It’s just never been done,” said Piedmont City Schools Superintendent Matt Akin.

Some school systems in Alabama provide limited transportation, according to an official with the state Department of Education. At least one system, Fairfield City Schools, is in the process of establishing its own transportation department.

While the Piedmont School System runs no buses for its students, two county systems deliver area students who live on the outskirts of the community. Calhoun County runs two buses to and from Vigo, while Cleburne County runs a bus to and from Borden Springs, Akin said.

Piedmont schools have not always been a transportation anomaly. Several school systems, including Jacksonville City Schools, began providing public transportation for students relatively recently.

Jacksonville schools started transporting students in the late '90s when the system moved the high school from Jacksonville State University’s campus.

“It just got to the point that the majority of the population wasn’t able to walk to school anymore,” said Jacksonville Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell.

Jacksonville City Schools provides transportation on big yellow school buses through CST of Jacksonville. The system pays about $500,000 a year to take students to and from school. So, too, does Anniston City Schools, which pays about $1 million for transportation each year, according to Superintendent Joan Frazier.

By relying on CST to bus students, the systems avoided purchasing buses and building a place to house them, the superintendents said.

Five years ago Piedmont examined the possibility of providing transportation. Akin said the initial expenses associated with establishing an in-house busing program are too expensive for the small system.

Akin said that the school system no longer has the data concerning possible transportation costs and said he doesn’t recall how much it would cost to implement a transportation system.

A spokeswoman the Alabama Department of Public Education, Melissa Valdes-Hubert, said that the initial costs — including buying the vehicles and building a shop for them — can be overwhelming.

To start busing students, systems must complete an extensive process with the Alabama Department of Education. That process can take between one and two years, but once it is complete some of the cost burden is transferred to the state, which reimburses local systems for a percentage of transportation costs.

The state reimburses the school system based on the number of bus routes local schools operate, Valdes-Hubert said.

No law or rule requires systems to bus students — it’s optional, according to Valdes-Hubert.

Even though it’s not required, Akin is not averse to the idea of transporting students. In fact, he said, he’s open to finding a way to bus students.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve,” Akin said. “It’s something I’m certainly willing to look into.”

Some parents in the carpool line outside Piedmont schools Wednesday said they would like it if the system was able to provide student transportation. Some parents, like Kelly Bursaw, said they plan their day around the school’s pick-up and drop-off times.

Bursaw said she begins her day by taking her husband to work in the family car, a white Pontiac, and ends it by picking him up from the welding shop he works at 10 miles from their home.

In between dropping her husband off and picking him back up, she has to leave her children at school and collect them again at the end of the day.

“With gas prices, that’s our biggest gripe,” Bursaw said. “If the bus ran it wouldn’t be so much gas.”

Her children transferred to the system from a county school this academic year. At least one other parent, who also works in the school cafeteria, said Piedmont parents find a way to make it work.

“A lot of people know each other in Piedmont so we generally get each other to school,” said Sandra McCain, who works in the cafeteria and has two children who attend Piedmont schools.

Editor’s Note: This story was changed to correct an error regarding the number of Alabama school systems that do not provide students transportation to and from school. Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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