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In dire need… County school system facing deeply challenging transportation situation

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
The Carter County School Board met on Thursday evening for a workshop leading up to the regularly scheduled school board meeting on Thursday, August 19th at 5:30 pm.

One of the most pressing needs of the night was brought to the board’s attention by Carter County Schools Transportation Director Wayne Sams who shared that the school system is approaching a heartbreaking situation due to not being able to get enough school bus drivers to cover 50 routes total and nine special educations buses.

“We are in desperate need of drivers in our system,” Sams stated. “I have been thinking a lot over the last few weeks on how I wanted to approach this.

“Back in the day when I started driving a school bus, you had farmers and preachers driving buses.”

Sams dove deeper into the issue that started the downfall for drivers sharing how a bus wreck where the bus rolled three times with 30 kids on board really started the downfall in drivers.

He also shared another accident that occurred in 2014 in Knox County where two buses collided killing two kids and a teacher’s aide. One of the drivers had an electronic device in his lap and the other was not even licensed to drive a bus.

“Those two things created a lot of law changes,” Sams said. “Then in 2016 in Chattanooga, a reckless driver killed six kids.

“Everybody has the same problems as we are including Elizabethton and states all across the country because driving a school bus is one of the greatest responsibilities ever. Even with the four percent increase recently voted on, drivers only make about $11,000 a year and that’s nothing for the responsibility.”

Sams shared how the amount of training that has been implemented has also made getting drivers tougher as they just don’t want to spend all the time required to train for the money they are earning. Drivers also have to recertify every year.

He shared the numbers so the BOE could see exactly the state of the transportation department for Carter County Schools.

“We are down 12 drivers and have lost several to some freak accidents,” Sams commented. “The first of September, we will be losing four more to medical conditions.

“It takes a new driver two and a half to three months to get their license and about four months total to begin driving. COVID has changed everything. We are the only source for some of these kids just to get them to school. We also need a few more subs.”

Sams handed the board some recommendations to pray over before next week’s August meeting as things need to start happening soon. He also thanked Dr. Tracy McAbee for being supportive and helping Sams to come up with some type of solution to the issue.

Dr. McAbee added to Sams’s comments by saying, “We won’t be able to run if we don’t come up with a solution.”

The school director also shared with the BOE that two MOU’s from the Sheriff’s Department had been received. Currently, the Sheriff’s Department is in the same situation as Sams as a lack of officers is making it hard to fill all 16 SRO positions in the county.

Dr. McAbee said that the system will have 10 schools that will have SRO’s as Sheriff Lunceford had indicated to Dr. McAbee that is all that he has been able to find.

Current COVID numbers were shared with the BOE as there are 65 confirmed COVID cases in county schools for kids and 12 teachers are out with COVID as well.

According to Dr. McAbee, there are 4600 students in county schools so the 65 students only represent 1.5 percent of the student population.

With the statewide Emergency Pandemic Coverage lifted, teachers that miss school now have to use their personal sick days as there are no more COVID days that educators can use.

Many are wondering what requirements may be coming to the school system as a result of the increase in cases. One of the things that Dr. McAbee added is that the system may start requiring teachers and employees to wear a mask.

A board member asked if the same would be required of parents coming onto the campuses of schools as it wouldn’t be fair to require employees to wear masks but not family members that come into the school’s doors.

The systems insurance broker – Five Points was also present to give a services update as well as an on-site Health Clinic overview.