Henry County Schools officials announced that transportation soon will be available to all Henry County students, as they plan to implement a new three-tier, bus route system for the 2012-13 school year.
The new system will separate routes for elementary, middle and high school students, effectively eliminating the district’s non-transportation zone practice for all students.
“Other metro Atlanta school systems have moved to a three-tier system over the past several years,” said Cliff Shearouse, Henry’s director of transportation services. “We have been able to identify benefits for Henry County by observing the successes of other districts, and knew it was time to make the switch ourselves.
“One huge benefit to the new tiered system is that all students will be eligible for bus transportation again,” he continued. “Through this new system, we are glad to be able to do away with one of the restraints experienced due to the down economy.”
Henry County’s board of education had imposed its non-transportation zone policy as a practice, during the initial economic downturn, citing lack of funds to account for an increased school bus ridership. With few exceptions, the policy restricts students living less than a mile from their assigned schools, or within the non-transportation zone, from receiving school bus transportation.
The school board relaxed the practice this summer, allowing transportation services to an estimated 1,900 elementary school students living within the non-transportation zone.
Henry County Schools Communications Specialist J.D. Hardin said the three-tier system would do away with the restrictions all together. He said the system also would provide for a safer, more efficient, and cost-neutral alternative to the current system.
Hardin said transportation budgeting would remain at its current level. He said the three-tier route system enables the transportation of students by school level — elementary, middle, and high school. Presently, middle and high school students ride the bus at the same time, and elementary school students are transported on separate routes.
The school district spokesman said separating students based on school levels should result in less crowding, fewer disciplinary issues, and less time spent on buses for middle and high school students.
The change in transportation methods, however, will trigger a change in bell schedules for middle and high school students. Hardin said that high schools will start approximately 20 minutes earlier and end approximately 25 minutes earlier than has been the custom. Middle schools will start about 20 minutes later and end about 10 minutes later. He said the changes in bell schedules reflect similar schedules neighboring counties developed when they implemented the same tiered system.
“With three different start and end times for students, we will be able to offer optimum seating options, versus maximum seating options, by reducing the number of riders during transportation to and from school,” added Shearouse.
Shearouse acknowledged in a previous interview with the Henry Daily Herald that school buses have been loaded with Henry County students over the past few years. School district data revealed that more than 23,000 pupils were transported by school bus, during the 2010-11 school year.
The transportation services director pointed out that the new system will require fewer buses to be in operation during normal routes, and will allow for a more reliable spare fleet.
Shearouse said the purchase of new buses, from revenues through Henry’s continued one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST IV) for Education, will not be used to increase the number of routes, but rather to replace the department’s older buses.