By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville School District Board of Trustees voted at its Tuesday meeting not to rehire its 12 bus monitors, choosing to install security cameras on the buses and giving drivers radio contact with school principals instead.
Nicole Thomas, SSD public information officer, said the monitors knew before the school year started that they would not be rehired, pending the board’s vote. As such, she said, they were not on monitor duty for the first day of school Tuesday.
“Some of (the monitors) work for the district in other capacities, but they are not being rehired as bus monitors,” Thomas said. “Bus aides who assist with students on special education buses, there are eight of those, and they will stay.”
The item was one of several personnel items the board approved in a single vote Tuesday. When one of the board members asked for an explanation about the bus monitors before the vote, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway asked SSD transportation director Kelvin Gibson to give a brief presentation.
Gibson said the bus monitor program came about through a grant which no longer pays the monitors. The monitors were hired to maintain discipline on the bus, he said, but data shows the monitors were not effective.
“Bus referrals were still way up, and when I went in and looked at them again, they were still high,” Gibson said. “Really, the (monitors were) like putting a Band-Aid on it, because they were not solving the issue of bus discipline. They were basically just riding the bus. Substitute teachers or teachers’ aides would leave their day for the school, and when they got on the transportation clock, they were actually getting paid overtime. So, they were really killing the transportation budget.”
Gibson said his department is retraining bus drivers and equipping them with radios to contact principals when they encounter discipline issues. Together with security cameras on each bus, he said he hopes this measure will decrease bus misconduct.
“The kids that are causing the disturbances, we’re basically identifying them, communicating with the parent, the principal, the transportation department and the assistant superintendent and superintendent,” Gibson said. “We also cut about $80,000 from our budget.”
In other news, the board voted to accept a proposal to contract with Lisa Browning Photography for school day pictures and other photography duties.
It also voted to request a one-year chemistry teaching license from state officials for Rebecca Wanner to teach at Starkville High School, which Holloway explained at the meeting.
“We have been unable to find a chemistry teacher for the high school,” Holloway said. “Mrs. Rebecca Wanner has said she would go back and work on adding that endorsement to her certificate. She’s currently certified in elementary education, general sciences and social studies.”
If the state grants Wanner’s license, Holloway said, she will enter a rigorous course of study for one year while teaching the chemistry class. If the state does not grant it, the school will be back to square one and unable to offer chemistry classes this semester, he said.
Thomas said the SSD will know if the state has approved the license within about a month, and once Wanner gets that license, her students will be able to earn academic credit in her class. Assistant Secretary Eric Heiselt said he was concerned about the possibility of Wanner’s license not being approved.
“That’s a tough class, and that will affect ACT scores,” Heiselt said. “I am just concerned about the kids currently enrolled this semester finding out in three weeks, ‘By the way, you’ve just wasted (three) weeks ... and you are now without a class, and by the way, you may have to take summer (classes), because you can’t graduate without that lab class.’”
However, SSD Assistant Superintendent Toriano Holloway said Wanner’s approval is likely.
“If a person is certified, I’ve never seen them say no,” Toriano Holloway said. “(Keith Fennell, the SHS principal,) has already set up a support system for her, to help her through once she gets to something that may be difficult. They’re already taking care of her as far as instruction.”
Finally, the board approved several board policy changes, chief among them a new policy allowing students recommended for expulsion and suspension to waive their right to a hearing, admit guilt, and immediately start school at Overstreet.
Holloway said this keeps students from waiting 10 days for a hearing or board meeting before continuing their education, but the SSD will retain the right to expel a student who commits such crimes as bringing drugs or weapons to school.