Transportation problems were the focus of much of the discussion at last week’s Chesterfield school board meeting as at least eight people spoke about it during public comment.
School district officials said the problems were related to a shortage of school bus drivers, including some who resigned in the two weeks before school started Sept. 4, and also as a result of implementing new start times and new bus routes.
“It took two days to say transportation issues weren’t normal,” parent Erin Folkenroth said at the Sept. 12 evening meeting. She accused the district of “blatant lies” in regard to what she called a “transportation fiasco.”
“Why did 13 bus drivers quit so close” to the start of school, she asked, adding that it should be investigated.
Folkenroth said the district has had a bus driver shortage for years, and suggested the district implement “no transportation” zones for those who live close to a school and consider reducing the number of school bus stops.
Referring to the board’s work session earlier on Sept. 12, parent Carrie Kahwajy said she was happy to hear that the district plans to make bus drivers feel valued. The starting pay for drivers is $14.41 an hour, which represents a recent 5-percent increase, according to district spokesman Shawn Smith.
“They’re overworked and underpaid. It’s 100 degrees on those buses. It’s not a job that any of us would do,” she said. (Smith said that more than 200 of the district’s 512 buses have air conditioning.)
Shannon Hayes said that between she and her husband, Michael, and their three children, they have had 51 first days of school in the Chesterfield school district over the years. “Last week was the worst,” she said. “It took 2 1/2 hours getting three kids to school. To say it was chaos was an understatement.”
She said the district needed more buses and more bus routes as a result of the school start time change.
At the close of the evening meeting, school board chairman John Erbach referred to the transportation issues and said the district “is not going to stop until things meet our standards.” He said the district spent all of its 2 1/2-hour work session on the issue.
In other news, Matoaca District resident Brenda Stewart criticized the board for not firing chief operations officer Nita Mensia-Joseph, whom she accused of creating a false document about a $12 million custodial services contract in relation to a Freedom of Information Act request Stewart had made. Stewart said the district’s director of purchasing had signed the real contract the week before Mensia-Joseph gave her an incorrect one.
Matoaca Middle School addition
The school board approved a $10.6 million bid by Southwood Building Systems, Inc. for a two-story, free-standing addition to Matoaca Middle School. Southwood was the lowest of five bids that were as high as $12.6 million. School officials said Southwood’s bid was $1.9 million below budget.
Door hardware project
Also approved was a bid of $269,101 to Architectural Products of Virginia for door and hardware replacements to improve security at 10 district schools. Architectural Products was the only company that submitted a bid for the first phase of the project.
The district originally awarded a bid of $224,600 for the job to National Door & Security Corp. on March 13, but the contract was terminated on July 30. Architectural Products had also bid on the project in March at a price of $271,664.
The first phase of the project was originally scheduled to begin in June and be finished by August. It is now slated to begin in December and be complete by February 2019. The second phase of the project is slated to be complete by the end of Fiscal Year 2019, according to a school board document.