Starting in August, students in the Flagler County School District who use wheelchairs will ride the same school buses as other students.
The district’s transportation department is integrating new inclusive buses into its fleet, Transportation Director Dontarrious Rowls told the school board during a June 21 informational workshop.
The state-of-the-art Type C school bus has elevators to accommodate students with special needs, allowing them to travel with students who board the buses. In the past, the district used the smaller Type B bus for students with special needs. Type B buses accommodate 30 passengers. Type C buses can accommodate a maximum of 77 primary school passengers with three students on a bench seat.
“With the inclusive process, we are looking at sending a bus for all the kids in the neighborhood,” Rowls said.
Rowls said the district has purchased two inclusive buses for the 2022-2023 school year. The district will continue to provide Type B buses to students with special needs who require a smaller bus, he said. he adds.
FULL OF STAFF
Rowls also noted that the transportation department is fully booked for the upcoming school year.
“I don’t think there’s (another) department of transportation in the state that can say that,” he said.
The department has added 16 drivers since last August and will continue to recruit and advertise for additional drivers, he added.
“We’re still recruiting, still bringing people in, because we understand (being full) can change at any time.”
DONTARRIOUS ROWLS, Transportation Manager
“We’re still recruiting, still bringing people in, because we understand (being full) can change at any time,” Rowls said.
Rowls attributed the new hires to the council’s approval in November of a pay rise for bus drivers.
The transportation department’s strategic plan calls for reducing the average age of buses in the fleet from 10.4 years to 8.5 years. Sixty of the 104 buses in the fleet are between 11 and 20 years old with an average total maintenance cost of $289,929 per year, according to a Department of Transportation chart.
Twelve buses are between 5 and 10 years old and cost an average of $24,808 per year. And 32 buses are between one and four years old. The new buses are still under warranty and have an average total maintenance cost of $62,705 per year. Rowls said there is currently $1.2 million allocated for bus replacements.
Although Rowls was not asked directly about the arrest of a Flagler school bus driver accused of drunk driving with students on his bus, board member Cheryl Massaro , asked if there were any practices in place that could identify potential problems.
Rowls said the department has offered additional online training, scheduled monthly safety meetings, and supervisors are more active, taking more time with drivers and providing feedback.
At monthly meetings, they discuss each incident, “how it could have been handled better and what we should do in the future to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Rowls said.