Voice from Greenbrier Co. Board of Education

By Stephen H. Baldwin

Only one group of people in Greenbrier County is happier than parents and teachers that winter’s grip ended – bus drivers. They serve in a thankless job fill with diverse challenges. On a daily basis, they maintain their buses, drive them on back roads in all kinds of weather, communicate with parents who live on their routes, and keep order amongst the students. What a tough job!

During the winter they unnecessarily receive grief in the community, but they make the best out of imperfect conditions by taking our children to school safely and on time. Perhaps most importantly, they make lasting relationships with the students they serve, because they care about them. But it’s not just bus drivers who do good work onboard. Some aides get on a bus before 6 p.m., work all day with their students at school, and don’t get off the bus until after 5 p.m. Such support is priceless.

This past winter, several people asked questions relating to buses and routes to which I’d like to respond, as I am proud of the work our bus drivers and mechanics do. “Why don’t buses use chains?” They do, and our drivers go out in sub-freezing temperatures well before sunlight on school mornings to prepare their buses each day. “Why don’t we use snow routes during bad weather?” Our drivers do. They make those plans with parents and students on their route for inclement weather, allowing the buses to still run whenever possible. “Why do cold temperatures cause delays or cancellations when they don’t in the Midwest or Northeast?” We utilize diesel buses to handle our steep hills and mountain terrain, and at certain temperatures diesel gels (even with additives) causing the buses to not be able to start.  (One day this year we had to cancel school at the last minute because temperatures fell during the morning and our bus engines cut off while running due to the cold.) Cold-weather states in the Midwest utilize buses which run a 50/50 blend of diesel and kerosene, which allows the buses to run up to -5 degrees. This is tremendously costly but necessary for them as they regularly have sub-freezing temperatures. Also, in Minnesota for example, they use hydraulic brakes to hold up in extreme cold whereas we are mandated by the state to use air brakes, which don’t handle cold as well. Our drivers do a commendable job despite adverse circumstances. As Superintendent Dalton likes to say, “When you see a bus driver, thank them!”

In other news, we approved a calendar for next school year. While many expected school to start earlier and/or end later in the summer (because the Legislature now requires all county schools to provide 180 days of instruction), our calendar actually looks very traditional. We asked parents, students, teachers, bus drivers, cooks, secretaries, janitors, and community members what they wanted, and they said they liked the calendar we had. So… we made some adjustments to keep the traditional calendar, allowing our community to continue important summer activities like church camp, 4-H camp, summer jobs, WV State Fair activities, Energy Express, etc. Students will report on Aug. 18, 2014.

We made this work principally by introducing “3-hour delays” to the calendar. Because in Greenbrier County we have a longer school day than most, we can introduce 3-hour delays on days where the weather clears later in the morning and still get the same number of instructional minutes in a year’s time. If you’re curious, Superintendent Dalton said if we would have had 3-hour delays this year, we would have gone to school 5-6 additional days. Having that extra hour can make a world of difference in terms of getting buses on the roads safely, and it will allow us to keep our traditional calendar which the community likes.

Lastly, several of you saw an article in the paper last month that I underwent a drug screen. Since I voted for a policy requiring all new employees to undergo a drug screen, I thought it only fair that I do the same thing. As my friends teased, the article did not mention the results. You will be happy to know, I hope, that I passed!

The Rev. Stephen Baldwin is a local Presbyterian minister and member of the Board of Education. He can be reached at Stephen.H.Baldwin@gmail.com.