By Stephen Huba, For the Weirton Daily Times
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 Hancock County Board of Education 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."
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 the Hancock County Commission in December 2012.
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 to 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.