NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County school bus drivers are worried that moving all Weirton buses to the New Cumberland bus garage will compromise student safety, increase wear and tear on the buses, and further burden county taxpayers.
Longtime bus drivers Judy Mullins and Diana Risk took their complaint to the school board Monday night, asking that the 19 Weirton buses be kept in Weirton.
"As bus operators, our main concern is for the safety of the students," said Mullins, president of the Hancock County Educational Support Professional Association. "We feel that moving the buses up here (to New Cumberland) isn't placing the students in Weirton in a good position."
This memorial to the three Hancock County teenagers killed in a car crash Jan. 18 was erected late last week. It sits near the entrance to Tomlinson Run State Park on state Route 8, close to where the Oak Glen High School students perished. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Mullins said the decision to move the buses is a "huge mistake," but Superintendent Suzan Smith said she has yet to make a recommendation to the board. She said she will do so before the end of the school year, declining to elaborate further.
Board President Jerry Durante told the bus drivers, "We'll take every concern that you've raised tonight and take a look at every aspect of it. ... We'll look at it all and see what is feasible."
The issue of bus relocation comes at a time when construction of the new Weirton Elementary School on Pennsylvania Avenue nears completion and the district no longer has use of the bus garage adjacent to the old Jimmy Carey Stadium. The latter, along with Newell Memorial Field, was sold to Hancock County commissioners in December 2012.
Support appreciated during loss
By STEPHEN HUBA
NEW CUMBERLAND - The "unbearable" loss of three Oak Glen High School students on Jan. 18 brought help and expressions of support from three states, Hancock County Schools Superintendent Suzan Smith told the board Monday night.
"People were wonderful in providing us support in our time of need," Smith said.
The three students - Kristyn Butcher, 16, of Newell, Kaylin Rice, 16, of Chester, and John "Emmett" Snow III, 16, of New Cumberland - were killed when their car collided with a New Manchester Volunteer Fire Department truck responding to an emergency on state Route 8. The two juniors and one sophomore had just left the Oak Glen girls basketball game and were on their way to Snow's house.
"It was truly heartrending. It was a tragedy in every sense of the word," Smith said.
Because of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and two calamity days, Oak Glen students did not return to school until Thursday. Despite that fact, Smith said she met with counselors that Sunday (Jan. 19) and most of the faculty and support staff on Jan. 20.
"Almost everybody came in and made plans for how we could best handle this situation," she said.
Smith said Brooke County Schools Superintendent Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson offered four of the district's counselors to help with the return of students on Thursday. Counselors were needed at Oak Glen High School, Oak Glen Middle School and the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center, she said.
The Oak Glen and Weir High girls basketball teams paid tribute to the three teenagers during their game on Thursday.
"This was a terrible, terrible tragedy," Smith said, "but we had so many people provide support and help."
Among those offering support were Deborah M. Jackson, superintendent of Burgettstown (Pa.) Area School District, and Tammy Adams, superintendent of South Side Area School District in Hookstown, Pa.
School board President Jerry Durante said Oak Glen High School received many messages of condolences - too many to count.
"It touched a lot of hearts in this valley," he said.
Meanwhile, Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said the investigation into the triple-fatality is continuing, but he did not know when a final report will be released.
Both facilities recently were sold to the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle, which is marketing the properties for economic development purposes. The loss of the Weirton bus facility may require the relocation of those buses to the New Cumberland facility across the street from the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center at Rockyside Road and state Route 2.
But Mullins and Risk said doing that would:
* Add 30-45 minutes in daily travel time to each Weirton bus;
* Increase the mileage on the Weirton buses by 40 miles a day - or 7,200 miles a year; and
* Raise fuel consumption by the Weirton buses by 19,636 gallons a year (108,000 extra miles at 5.5 miles per gallon).
"The expense of putting them here (in New Cumberland) is going to be an ongoing expense for the taxpayers of Hancock County," Risk said.
What's more, Mullins said the New Cumberland facility is not adequate to handle the additional personnel for a total of 41 buses, which must be inspected daily, refueled and washed.
She said a better solution would be to operate the Weirton buses from the grounds of the new elementary school or one of the old elementary schools - Broadview, Liberty or Weirton Heights.
Mullins said Smith "promised" the bus drivers at the beginning of the school year that there would be enough room at the new elementary school to park and refuel the Weirton buses there.
"I think this board needs to consider other options," she said.
Also Monday, the board learned that of the eight calamity days (including today) taken so far this school year, six must be made up. Four of those will be made up by having school on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday preceding Easter (April 20), Smith said.
Easter break will consist of Good Friday and the Monday following Easter, Smith said.
Another day will be made up by having school on the Monday before the primary election (May 13). The sixth day will be made up by having school on June 6, previously scheduled as an instructional support and enhancement (ISE) day for teachers. Thus, June 6 will be the last day of school for students, Smith said.
The ISE day will instead be held on June 9, she said.