Henry Schools hold “Welcome Back” for bus drivers

Special to The Times

Gearing up for the school year takes on a different meaning for those working in the Henry County Schools transportation department. Upon completion of the last day of school from the previous school year, mechanics and other transportation personnel go to work to prep the buses for the miles to be driven and precious cargo to be delivered once the calendar reaches August again.

Three winners of brand new 90 passenger buses at the recent “Welcome Back” convocation held by Henry County Schools transportation department. The winners were eligible because they did not miss a single day during the 2015-2016 school year. Special photo

With over 300 buses in the fleet, maintaining a smooth-running operation is no easy task, but Director Cliff Shearouse and Assistant Director Murry Chambers, along with their hard-working department do a phenomenal job of providing transportation services to at least 23,000 students each day.

During the summer months, the department responsible for the start and end of the school day for many kids is busy completing inspections, testing and setting routes, and communicating schedules to families across the district.

The drivers hold an annual “Welcome Back” convocation at the end of July to review important information and provide rewards to a few lucky drivers.

This year’s convocation saw 12 brand new buses given away to drivers that were eligible due to not having missed a day of work all year during the 2015-2016 school year.

“We had close to twenty-five percent of our drivers who did not miss a single day of work last year,” said Shearouse. “These drivers were eligible to win one of the new buses, and twelve of our drivers walked away with a new set of keys.”

The buses were purchased with approved E-SPLOST funds and help replace some of the older buses in the school system’s fleet. Some older buses are used as back-ups, while the oldest of the buses are sold during surplus auctions. Drivers will also have the chance at a new bus later in the year thanks to Georgia’s Bonds for Buses program. The funds for this program comes from the state’s selling of bonds and the funds collected distributed to school systems to help purchase new buses for their fleets.

In addition to new wheels, the transportation department focuses on new training and fresh information pertaining to bus, student, and motorist safety.

Each year, there are more and more vehicles on the road as the county’s population grows. With an increase in the number of students utilizing the school system’s transportation, it is critically important that motorists recognize and use extreme caution when traveling near a yellow bus.

One of the biggest hazards and greatest causes for injury to students is that of motorists illegally passing school buses stopped to pick up or drop off students.

Henry County Schools will continue to use its stop-arm cameras on buses throughout the county to record the instances of illegal activity. Those videos are then turned over to law enforcement officials to determine if a motorist illegally passed a school bus according to Georgia law. Redflex Student Guardian provides the cameras to the system to help capture those who pose great risks to students looking for a safe ride to and from school.

Since 2012, cameras on Henry County Schools’ buses have assisted law enforcement officials in issuing almost 2,000 tickets to motorists caught in the act of illegally passing a school bus. Nearly 500 were issued last school year alone. Each fine can carry a $300 penalty.

“The bottom line is that we should not have to worry about cars passing buses illegally,” said Shearouse, “but we do and it is unfortunate that there are those who do not think about the gravity of what could happen by their reckless behavior. One student injured or killed is one too many. It is not worth the little bit of time it takes for a bus to complete its loading or drop-off to risk injuring anyone by illegally passing a school bus.”

Shearouse notes that cars should always slow down as soon as the yellow or amber-colored flashers are engaged on the bus and be prepared to stop as soon as the red flashers come on. The only time a car would not have to stop completely when a bus was picking up or dropping off students would be when a car was traveling in the opposite direction and there was an unpaved or concrete median divider between the two opposing sides of the road.

“Even if there are four lanes and there is a turning lane in the middle of those lanes, cars in all directions must stop for the bus.”

The Henry County Schools transportation staff is ready for the new school year to start, and students will soon get to meet their bus driver for the year. Department officials also encourage families to adhere to the rules of being at the bus stop on time so as to not delay the rest of the scheduled stops. Students should be far enough back from the road but visible to the driver upon approach. Routes and pick-up times can be found online.

Additionally, a handy tool for those wishing to know the status of routes can be found through the transportation department’s website. This involves text messages alerting students and families to any possible delays.

“The first few weeks of school always lead to many more cars on the road than what is normal, and this can cause some slight delays with buses. Our texting system can assist in letting parents and guardians know when a bus might be running a little bit behind.

For more information on Henry County Schools and its transportation department, visit them online at www.henry.k12.ga.us