The state School Building Authority changed a decade-old policy Monday that gave more weight to economies of scale than to how long children ride on the bus.
Since it began in 1989, the authority gave more weight to projects that met certain size requirements than to projects that kept bus times down. Now, transportation times will receive equal consideration, said Clacy Williams, executive director of the authority. ?When we began, we decided to weigh some criteria more than others. We had a lot of health and safety issues, poor curriculum being provided in substandard buildings,? he said. ?Now, most of the critically impaired buildings are gone,? he said, and the authority can focus on the ?valid issue? of increases in transportation time.
Williams and several authority members said a recent report in the Sunday Gazette-Mail about increasingly long bus rides caused them to consider the change in policy. That investigation found that more than half of all bus runs in rural counties are longer than state guidelines allow ? 30 minutes each way for students in elementary school, 45 minutes for middle school students, and 60 minutes for high school.
It also found that state and county administrators ignored a 1998 state law requiring them to study bus times. Small-school activists have been trying to change the authority?s evaluation system for a decade. A 1997 lawsuit to prevent the closing of Circleville High School in Pendleton County attempted but failed to force the authority to change it. The review process, small schools activists say, stacked the deck in favor of larger schools and longer bus rides. In 1989, the Legislature set seven goals for judging which projects would receive money from the authority: student health and safety, economies of scale, reasonable travel times, multicounty schools, curricular improvements, educational innovations and adequate space. Legislators never ranked the goals. The SBA decided that safety, larger schools, curriculum and innovations were more important than bus times, classroom space and schools that accepted students from more than one county. The SBA also added an eighth ?overall rating? goal into the mix. Now, all those goals would receive the same weight, under the policy passed Monday by authority members. The decision contradicted a 1990 state Board of Education resolution about school consolidation. State board members listed ?avoids inappropriate increases in travel time? as the second priority when closing schools. They ranked ?improved educational programs? as most important. To contact staff writer Scott Finn, use e-mail or call 357-4323.