August 5, 2008

Bristol Eyes Redrawing School Lines

By David McGee, Bristol Herald Courier, Va.

Aug. 5--BRISTOL, Va. -- Citing possible overcrowding concerns and the cost of fuel, school leaders said Monday they plan to redraw some elementary school boundary lines.

"It may not be very popular, but we wouldn't be doing our job as a board if we don't look at this," Vice Chairwoman Virginia Goodson said following the board meeting.

Board members began the task in February 2007, taking a bus ride across the city's four elementary school districts. During a called meeting, they directed staff members to develop some redistricting options, but never put the item back on an agenda.

"We've done quite a bit of work, but it was dropped because other things were more important," Goodson said. "It's not any one person's fault, but we can't put this off."

Goodson said she expects the board will discuss the existing redistricting plans at its Sept. 2 meeting and then solicit the input of parents and school administrators.

Any change would go into effect for the 2009-2010 school year.

"There's no rush. We just need to get this done before next year," board member Randy White said. "There's really not that many kids affected. But we're under-loaded at some schools and overloaded at others."

Van Pelt Elementary, which lies near Interstate 81's booming Exit 7, is the closest to capacity based on preliminary enrollment figures, White said.

Because state and federal laws specify class size requirements, some minor changes could mean saving the cost of hiring additional teachers, Goodson said.

"Our other big concern is our fuel. We have too few students riding some buses," Goodson said.

School leaders have already eliminated one bus route for the new school year and are looking at additional ways to save money, Goodson said.

Only three members participated in the discussion. Chairman Ronald Cameron was out of town and board member Eric Clark was ill and left midway through the meeting. Both said they favored a full review of redistricting options during last year's meeting.

In other action Monday, the board appropriated an additional $50,000 for fuel for the new school year. That represents a 52 percent increase and brings the total to more than $146,000 for the year.

The change was based on the rising cost of diesel fuel and gasoline during the summer.

In other matters, the city school division was one of three statewide honored for its achievements in safety and risk management.

"Bristol was at the very top of the list," said Greg Dickie, director of member services for the Virginia Municipal League, who presented the award.

"They've done an outstanding job, especially when you consider the exposure a school system has with buses and children and other vehicles," Dickie said.

The school system participates in the VML's nonprofit property, liability and vehicle insurance program.

The award was based on the division's low accident rate, excellent safety record and low cost of claims that do occur, Dickie said.

"Tammy Jones, the director of finance, has done a fantastic job of keeping claims from happening and managing the cost," Dickie said.

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