By MARINA WATERS
Washington County Schools’ bus routes were changed in the northern half of the county back in November, but overcrowding at Ridgeview Elementary School, however, is still not resolved.
The county school system held a town hall meeting at Ridgeview on Thursday, Feb. 21, to discuss the changed bus routes as well as the overcrowding situation at Ridgeview. The school system’s special projects manager, Jarrod Adams, said the changes were designed in a way to concentrate the schools’ transportation services.
“We wanted to make sure the bus routes we developed were the shortest, most direct route from Point A to Point B for our students,” Adams said. “By necessity, there are times when one bus will be going south passing another bus going north, going to two different schools. We looked at the map and did our best to make sure we didn’t have that double bus on the same road as much as possible.”
In November, the board unanimously voted to change the bus routes to bring more students to the new Boones Creek School and to relieve Ridgeview of its amount. Parents in the affected school zones — Ridgeview, Boones Creek, Gray, Fall Branch and Sulphur Springs — were sent letters after the decision was made, requesting that parents respond saying their student would either attend their assigned school or would return to the school in which the student is currently enrolled. In the latter situation, the parent would then have to provide transportation for the student and avoid chronic tardiness as part of a contract from the school system.
At the town hall meeting, Adams said approximately 190 students were effected by the change in bus zones. He said of that number, only 13 have elected to go to the school they were recently assigned.
“We knew going into this process we won’t fix the overcrowding issue at Ridgeview,” Adams said. “We understand, honestly, it’ll probably take seven or eight years to filter through the overcrowding issue at Ridgeview. But we have to start somewhere. We weren’t trying to fix this in one year. If we were, we would have said, ‘you have to go to the school you’re zoned with.’ And we’re not doing that.”
But that doesn’t solve Ridgeview parents’ immediate problem — the car line.
Ridgeview parent Mandy Smith said she felt changing the bus routes caused more students to have to go through the car line because they could no longer ride the bus if they were to attend the school for which they’re no longer zoned.
Ridgeview Principal Kelley Harrell said the school is currently planning to change its car line and that change will most likely happen in May. She said the plan is to load the buses in the back of the building and use the bus lane at the front for the car line. She added that the county’s highway department has already surveyed the property for the changes.
“Even if we lost those 180 kids, we’re still going to have a massive car line population because about 70 percent of our students are already car riders,” Harrell said. “But we are prepared, we have the space to stack cars and we’ll be able to stay off the road much better than we do now with the changes we are going to implement next year.
“We’ll make it work. That’s what I want all the Ridgeview parents that are here to know; no matter what happens to our car line next year, we’re gonna be fine because I’ll make sure we are. We’re going to be good.”
School board member Phillip McLain, who has been vocal during recent school board meetings regarding overcrowding at Ridgeview, said the board is also trying to look ahead. With a school at 122 percent capacity, reducing the number of Ridgeview students, even at a slow rate, he said, is a needed step.
“If a subdivision opens up within this district and 20 kids comes out of this subdivision, guess what, they’re in this district,” McLain said. “They’re coming to this school. So where does that take us to? That’s the part that I ask you to understand what we’re up against. We’ve got to try to keep space utilized as good as we can and not overcrowd our students. The more we overcrowd our schools, the more the classrooms are overcrowded.”
Meanwhile, one parent questioned the decision to push nearby roads out of the Ridgeview district in the bus route shuffle.
“I just want you to take into consideration one thing; the child who named this school lived on Ridgeview Drive,” Ridgeview parent Becky Sutton said. “Ridgeview Drive is now zoned for Gray. And it’s kind of a shame.”
The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 27. The called meeting’s agenda includes discussion on topics such as the upcoming Boones Creek School’s furniture, the mascot decision, storage of trophies at the school as well as an appraisal on the Boones Creek Middle School property. The Jonesborough School project will also be discussed at the meeting. That meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. at 405 W College Street, Jonesborough.