May 18, 2011

School board looks at revamping its city bus service

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

After experiencing one of the hardest winters in recent memory, the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 School Board at its May 9 meeting gave serious consideration to establishing separate bus routes for just Watford City students. In the past, after the rural buses had dropped off their students at school, the buses made another trip around Watford City picking up city students.
But this winter’s storms quickly pointed out the problems of piggy backing a city school bus service on a rural system.
This winter just proved our current system isn’t dependable,” stated Jim Gefroh, district transportation director. “When the rural buses couldn’t run, it created big problems in town.”
But the snowstorms that caused bus delays due to closed roads and poor visibility are only one reason that Gefroh thinks the time is right for the school district to completely revamp its in-city bus service.
“We’re going to see big growth in population on the outskirts of Watford City,” predicted Gefroh. “Our current bus route system just isn’t designed to handle the increase in students that we are seeing around Watford City.”
What Gefroh is proposing, and the school board is supporting, is the  concept of creating separate in-city bus routes with four new buses and drivers.
“The cost of the four new buses would be around $162,000,” stated Gefroh. “And we would have to find new bus drivers, as well as backup drivers.”
And, according to Gefroh who has struggled to find regular school bus drivers, finding even more drivers could be the hardest part of the proposal.
“We are hoping that people will be interested in being drivers once they realize that they just have to drive our in-city bus routes,” stated Gefroh. “Hopefully, once they realize that the time commitment is less than our regular country bus drivers, we will be able to hire drivers.”
While the school board gave its blessing to pursuing the possibility of creating separate in-city bus routes, they weren’t willing to completely endorse the plan until the district was able to hire new bus drivers.
“Let’s advertise and see if we can get the drivers,” stated Kelly Norby, school board president.
During Monday night’s meeting, the school board moved forward with offering teaching contracts to six new teachers at the elementary school, while accepting the resignation of Tina Kostad, elementary school cook assistant; Lisa Scott, high school assistant secretary, and Cathy Dekker, district business manager.
New teachers that were offered contracts at the elementary school are Ben Dehaven, Delaine Lutz, Lane Flagen, Alecia Spacher, Sandra Luther and Rachel Heppner. All but Heppner have verbally committed to accepting the teaching contracts.
School board members were also informed by Steve Holen, district superintendent, that if the enrollment continues to increase, the district could receive additional state funds.
“Under the Rapid Enrollment Payment program, which was funded by the North Dakota Legislature, our district could receive more state funds to help offset the rapid increase in student numbers being experienced by the district,” stated Holen.
According to Holen, if the district enrollment increases to 623 students by this fall, it would have met the requirements of the Rapid Enrollment Payment program.
“We currently have 635 students enrolled,” stated Holen. “So I believe that we will meet the requirements unless our enrollment numbers should drop.”
Under the Rapid Enrollment Payment program, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 could receive an additional $350,000 in state funds.
In other business, the school board:
• Was informed by Supt. Holen that the new transportation building was nearing completion.
• Was updated by Supt. Holen on legislation that will impact the district.
• Approved changing the district’s school calendar to reflect April 13 as being a day off versus April 12 to accommodate the State Music Festival.
• Approved not accepting a mineral lease for 2.25 acres, and directed Wyatt Voll, district attorney, to write a letter to the current operator of the oil well that is in production in which the district has mineral acres that have not leased.
• Approved hiring Glenn Stenehjem for summer Driver’s Education, Eric Krogen for summer Government, and Faith Lam for summer Independent Remedial.
• Was informed that six applicants have applied for the high school science position.
The next meeting of the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 school board will be held at 6 p.m. on June 13.