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Committee to address transportation issues

By Greg Gelpi

Getting more bus drivers and coordinating students who want to change schools, the school system will take on transportation issues.

The Facility/Purchasing/Transportation Committee of the Clayton County Board of Education will meet at 6:30 tonight at Jonesboro Middle School.

The school system started the school year with a shortage of bus drivers, putting mechanics and other staff members behind the wheel, school spokesman Charles White said.

"As a parent, I would prefer that routes be covered by a regular bus driver," said Annette Niles, a Clayton County school bus driver and Forest Park High School parent. "I think it creates situations where kids are kids and try to take advantage of drivers. I think they would rather be fixing buses, rather than transporting students on them."

Under provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, students at poorly performing schools can opt to transfer to schools that are performing as required.

White said 288 students chose to exercise their right to attend schools other than their home school. Of those, 39 are in elementary schools, 191 are in middle schools and 58 are in high schools.

Transportation Director Michael Jennings will present his department's plan for transporting these students to their schools of choice, since No Child Left Behind mandates they be provided transportation.

Niles said she was given the option to send her son to a different school because of school choice, but she chose to let him continue to attend Forest Park High School.

"I'm from the old school, and I believe if there is a problem in a school then there is a problem in the community and I'm not going to run from it," Niles said.

Schools are deemed poorly performing because of many factors, some of which don't impact her son or her son's education, she said.

"I don't know exactly how it's going to work out," school board member Bob Livingston said. "We'll have to wait and see how it's going to work out and how much expense it's going to cost."

Elementary school students made the switch Sept. 7, and middle and high school students will change Oct. 11.

Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton County Education Association, is trying to remain optimistic, but expressed concern that No Child Left Behind and school choice may be detrimental.

"The bottom line is that school choice won't accomplish its goals and it may make schools worse in the long run," Chapman said. "If schools are too crowded for the community, bringing students across school lines will only make them more crowded."

The potential for overcrowding tops his concerns, along with who is choosing to leave the home schools, he said. The newly overcrowded schools might then turn into low performing schools themselves.

Chapman said his concerns have been expressed by many teachers in CCEA.

"There are fears that there are no ways to make this so-called No Child Left Behind work," Chapman said. "There are some who feel that this plan is the demise of public education."

Students at schools that have failed to make adequate yearly progress for the second year in a row can choose to attend another school.

Students at Fountain Elementary School could opt to attend Edmonds, Hendrix Drive, Huie, Lake City or Morrow elementary schools. Although Fountain made AYP this year, it must make AYP for two years in a row to be removed from the Needs Improvement list.

Forest Park, Kendrick, Lovejoy, Roberts, Morrow, Mundy's Mill, Pointe South and Riverdale middle school students could choose to go to Babb, Adamson or Jonesboro middle schools.

Students at Forest Park High School can transfer to Jonesboro, Morrow or Riverdale high schools. Lovejoy High students could opt for Mundy's Mill, North Clayton or Riverdale high schools. Mt. Zion High School students could choose to attend Jonesboro, Morrow or Mundy's Mill high schools.

Forest Park Middle and North Clayton Middle must also offer supplemental educational services since they did not make AYP four years in a row.

The committee will also hear an update on the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and discuss the school system's five-year facilities plan.