Shorter school days, new school facilities discussed by school board at length
By Larry Cavender
During a lengthy Friday evening school board meeting March 3rd, topics included bus scheduling, the possibility of shortening the school day, a proposed new driver’s education class at Pickens High School, and a number of facility projects.
The meeting started several minutes late with some board members delayed because of the severe weather, but much was accomplished during the session which ran approximately four hours. After an executive session, the board heard reports from Interim Superintendent Janet Goodman, Chief Financial Officer Amy Smith, and Chief Operations Officer Chris Wallace.
Shorter school days discussed
Although the superintendent’s portion dealt with many topics, most discussion centered on the possibility of shortening the school day for students by “tightening up” bus schedules. Vice Chair Steve Lowe initiated the discussion, reporting he had heard some students wait to board buses for up to a half hour before departing from their schools. Noting some neighboring counties have much shorter days, Lowe asked if a shorter day could be accomplished here.
COO Chris Wallace responded that the problem is Pickens is consistently short-handed with several bus drivers running double routes; those other counties are “fully staffed.” Pickens would need at least nine more drivers to be considered fully staffed. Wallace said he doesn’t understand why Pickens is short-handed because other counties “don’t pay as well as we do.”
“This really bothers me,” stated Wallace, who added he would reach out to other counties to determine how they are attracting drivers. The COO said perhaps “someone outside needs to look at this” and recommended considering a consultant “to close the gap.” Most board members appeared to agree with Wallace’s suggestion.
Drivers Ed coming in the fall?
In the financial portion of the work session, CFO Amy Smith detailed the costs of funding a possible driver’s education class at PHS. This topic proved to generate much interest with board members who peppered Smith with questions. The CFO explained the state’s criteria for implementing the course and said if the board wants driver’s ed by next fall, an application will need to be filed with the state by the end of this month. While there are several hurdles, Smith believed a fall semester beginning was possible.
In light of several recent accidents at the entrance to the high school, all board members enthusiastically encouraged all parties involved to proceed expeditiously. At present, plans call for an enrollment of 90 students per semester. Students would be required to have a learner’s permit, a good attendance record, and be on-track for graduation to be eligible for driver’s ed.
New facilities of all types in planning stage
Facilities dominated the report by COO Chris Wallace. As a part of the PHS Extracurricular Enhancement Project, Wallace reported on plans to build a multipurpose fieldhouse at the PHS stadium, the repurposing of the current fieldhouse as a livestock grow-out facility, and also the repurposing of the old agricultural facility into a PHS wrestling center. Other improvements include the resurfacing of the stadium’s six-lane track and creating a field events/practice field.
Other topics covered by the COO included the repaving of Dragon Drive, options for custodial operations, as well as the progress of the Georgia Department of Education’s required local facilities plan which is mandated every five years.
Because the meeting was a work session, no action was taken on any issue. However, action is expected on many of these issues at the next regular board meeting on Thursday, March 9th.