By William C. Singleton III
The Hoover school system will delay the start date of its fee-based transportation service one year.
Hoover School Superintendent Andy Craig informed parents of the decision in a letter dated May 6.
“Currently, we are working towards implementation with the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year,” Craig’s letter states.
The school board in April voted to adopt a fee-based service for students who need transportation to and from city schools. The fee-based structure was designed to charge less to families of children on free or reduced-price lunch plans and was scheduled to start at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
The school board’s decision last July to eliminate bus service except for special needs students angered many in the community but was a move the school system had to make to address dwindling funds and an ever-increasing enrollment, school officials have said. Since then, school officials have sought ways to provide bus service for students while maintaining their decision to get out of the transportation business.
Many\residents have appealed to the school board and Craig to reverse the decision to eliminate free bus service. But Craig, in his letter, pushed the concept of a fee-based transportation system as the right course for Hoover.
“There is no doubt that we are engaged in a process of change–movement away from ‘how it has always been done’ to a transportation model that I believe will better serve our students, families and school system,” Craig said.
Craig also promoted the positives of the system’s fee-based approach. He said the fee-based transportation model could help integrate technology on buses “that will enhance the safety and efficiency of our student transportation services.”
He gave as examples technology to capture accurate ridership data and technology to provide “enhanced supervision on buses.”
Residents, while welcoming the decision to delay charging for bus service, were unconvinced. On the “Free the Hoover Buses” Facebook page, residents reacted to the latest development in the school bus saga.
“Yeah! (For now),” Rachel McCaleb Hartsell wrote.
“Seriously? Trying to sell us on the promise of additional, unnecessary services when all we want is simple transportation to and from school,” Michael Grady said.
“I do not support these changes, not in the slightest,” Monica Dobbins said. “Yet I am pleased to see that there was communication directly to parents about the changes–the first such communication I can remember seeing during this entire process.”
Hoover school officials have been in constant dialogue with the U.S. Justice Department about the system’s transportation proposal. The justice department has allowed the city to proceed with its plan but wants it to provide additional data on the effectiveness of its approach.
The U.S. District Court has to approve the school system’s fee-based plan. The justice department and the court are involved because of a long-standing federal desegregation consent decree.