Andy Craig on canceling bus services: ‘It is the plan going forward’

By STEPHANIE BRUMFIELD / Staff Writer

HOOVER – The Spain Park theater was nearly filled during a public forum held Aug. 8, where dozens of parents, grandparents, bus drivers and other concerned Hoover residents gathered with Hoover City School officials to discuss the school board’s decision to end bus services.

During an open-mic session where audience members were given the chance to ask questions and offer feedback, the response was overwhelmingly negative. The open-mic session followed a presentation by the school board discussing current revenues, expenditures and cutbacks.

Several parents – from both multi- and single-parent households – expressed concerns about getting their kids to and from school when all parents in the household work full-time.

One parent, who identified herself as a working mother of three children at three different schools, said she works at a bank where several employees are affected by the decision. She suggested an alternative solution – eliminating elementary-school buses to save money since most elementary schools are “neighborhood schools.”

Dennis and Summer Donnelly, who also work full-time, currently have a child enrolled at one of those neighborhood schools – Green Valley Elementary.

“The problem isn’t going to affect us in the immediate sense,” said Dennis Donnelly, who lives in the same neighborhood where his oldest child attends school. “But we think it’s a terrible decision.”

The Donnellys also have two twins who will be at Green Valley next year. When their eldest moves on to middle and high school, they said getting their kids to school and getting to work on time will be much more difficult.

The Donnellys, and other parents, also expressed concerns about increases in traffic and how that would affect drop off times, traffic accidents and emergency response time for emergency personnel.

Superintendent Andy Craig said this is one reason the school board is waiting to eliminate transportation for a year, so they can conduct traffic flow studies over the course of the upcoming school year.

Still other parents were concerned about the goal of the forum and said they wondered whether their voices were being heard.

One man asked Craig, “Is this a done deal? Or is this still on the table?”

Craig responded, “The action has been board-approved. It is the plan going forward at this point.”

Another parent asked, “What made you think you didn’t need to share this in advance?”

Craig said, “We probably should have done it differently, but you live and learn.”

Several parents mentioned the upcoming school board meeting, and one asked Craig, “Will you recommend that the school board reconsider?”

Craig said, “I cannot make that promise tonight, but I can assure you your voices are being heard.”

In the opening presentation, Hoover City Schools chief financial officer Cathy Antee said the school system spent $152 million during 2012, down from $172 million in 2008 when significant funding cuts starting affecting the system.

Craig said he expects the school system to be able to save approximately $2.5 million annually by eliminating transportation services, and he said saving money is ultimately about “controlling the education quality” of Hoover City Schools.

Craig said the idea came to the board after conducting a survey in 2010 of about 300 stakeholders in the Hoover City School system. The group of stakeholders gave a list of possible options for cutbacks, and Craig said the school system is on the second- and third-tier portion of that list.

Even with the cuts in spending, Antee said student achievement has increased.

Both ACT scores and the percent of students meeting ACT college readiness standards had increased since 2008, she said.

Regarding the reason for their decision, Craig said, “We are funding an annual deficit we simply cannot maintain.”

Another parent, John Blake, said, “Nobody’s questioning the numbers. I think it was a snapshot decision made without any community input.”

Blake lives in Greystone and has four kids in the Hoover City School system attending three different schools.

“I’m not sure how to tell my employer that I need to leave at 3 o’clock every day,” he said.