ST. PARIS – The Graham Local School Board of Education met on Wednesday for the last time in 2019 and delivered good news about restoration of high school bus routes.
Graham Director of Operations Don Burley said the district will restart high school transportation door-to-door in rural areas on Monday, Dec. 16.
“I think coming back from Christmas break and trying to start new routes would have been horrible for our staff,” Burley said during Wednesday night’s board meeting. “Our staff has spent a lot of time working through this so, I guess I say just in general … people need to be patient with us. This is like starting the first day of school in August and September again. If you remember the first week of school takes a lot of time to re-adjust routes … but I believe that after next week we’ll be able to hit the ground running effectively, efficiently and safely come January 6.”
Group stops on bus routes are currently used in the district’s villages and townships, but high school riders living in the rural areas lost door-to-door service at the start of the 2018-2019 school year. A complete elimination of high school bus routes was proposed after the failure of a levy in May of this year, but the limited group bus stops model in villages and townships was retained partially due to public outcry at Graham board meetings over the summer. A decision was made by district officials in July to keep the limited bus service in place.
Budget cuts at Graham due to four failed attempts to pass a 1% additional earned income tax have curtailed bus service, but restoration of rural door-to-door high school routes became possible upon re-evaluation of revenue and expenses in October, school officials said. Restoration of the routes will occur a month earlier than previously announced and will also include changes to middle school busing with the addition of new stops, riders and different bus schedules as of Dec. 16.
Graham officials announced in early October they re-prioritized spending, initiated innovative human resource practices and made reductions in services. Officials said that significant reductions have been made in spending while attempting to limit negative impact on student achievement and instruction, making it possible to reduce budget expenditures by over $2 million over the past two years.
In addition, special funding made available by Gov. Mike DeWine and the State of Ohio for this year and next will afford the district an opportunity to fund some positions in the areas of student wellness, social/emotional health and success, easing the burden on the district’s operating fund.
Targeted implementation in January for the new busing model allowed time to hire drivers, develop routes and schedules and notify all families affected.
But this month, Graham opted to restore the routes earlier.
“Once the Board of Education made the decision to reinstate door-to-door rural high school busing, we went to work with the goal to activate the plan as soon as possible,” Burley said in a prepared statement issued prior to the Wednesday board meeting. “I commend our transportation staff for their collaboration and hard work to make adjustments mid-year to offer this critical service to our families earlier than expected.”
Adjustments to high school and middle school busing are being made across the district to accommodate the new stops and riders, according to school officials. Because of this, many high school and middle school students will have a different bus schedule as of Dec. 16.
To view the most updated bus schedule, parents and guardians may visit the Graham Local Schools website, click on “Transportation” under the departments tab, and click on the Infofinder(i) link.
“We thank everyone for their patience as we make these changes across the district,” Burley said in the prepared statement. “The priorities for our department are the safety of all students and the swift reinstatement of high school busing to a door-to-door model in our rural areas.”
Questions about district transportation changes can be emailed to [email protected]
Departures of staff, board members
At the close of the meeting, Superintendent Matt Curtis presented a plaque to each of the departing board members, as well as to Treasurer Judy Geers, who will retire at the end of this year. Kristie Purtee will serve as the next district treasurer under a two-year-and-seven-month administrative contract effective Jan. 1, 2020, to July 31, 2022. Purtee obtained her Business Manager’s License and Treasurer’s license while working full time as Graham’s assistant treasurer.
Departing board members include board President Ryan Pine, who had served for four years, Miranda Uhl, who served for four years, and Mike Ludlow, who served for six years.
Board member Steve Setty was appointed board president pro tem for the purposes of the organizational meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2020. Steve Prince will continue to serve on the board and newly-elected members starting in 2020 will be Alan Mitchell, Toni Kite and Leslie Maurice.