Board makes bus radios an urgent request

WOODSTOCK — The topic of student safety in Shenandoah County was paramount Tuesday night during a joint session between the Shenandoah County School Board and the Board of Supervisors.

Board members met to discuss the School Board’s Capital Improvement Plan — a hefty document that includes an urgent request for a new gym at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg to help with student lunch crowds.

The replacement of school bus radios wasn’t originally among requests for the coming school year — until an incident in December greatly raised its level of urgency.

Children were returning from schools on the county’s southern campus when their bus broke down, Transportation Supervisor Marty Quigley recalled. The driver couldn’t call for help, because his radio wasn’t working, and they were in an area without cell service.

With no other options, the driver left the children in the care of an assistant and walked a mile to the closest house. From there he called the bus garage, which sent another bus.

“[It] took about an hour to get another bus there, and then we had to field calls from parents as to why the bus broke down,” Quigley said.

Fortunately it wasn’t a medical emergency, but he said help would have been there a lot sooner if the bus radio had worked — particularly important when special needs children ride the bus.

Quigley said one of the students on that bus risks the chance of having a grand mal seizure that requires immediate care.

County schools have known of the radio system problem, he said. “We relay between buses and we hope to hear those transmissions, or [bus drivers] pull over and use their cell phones,” he said.

They’ve tried fixing the system, but the 20-year-old system needs to be replaced.

“It should have been replaced a long time ago,” he said.

The state-of-the-art radio system he proposed should last 20 to 30 years.

“It’s not a want,” he told the Board of Supervisors. “With the level of students we transport across this county, this is a must have. Especially with the special needs students.”

Hearing the story, Supervisor Marsha Shruntz called the situation totally inappropriate.

“I hope you speak up for your department, I hope you do, to the School Board,” she told him. “This is absolutely a safety issue.”

Requests for the 2016 fiscal year amount to $1,876,788. Last year the School Board received $450,000 from county supervisors to fund capital improvements.

The School Board spent the majority of funds on security upgrades and rooftop cooling units. But ventilation system concerns for W.W. Robinson Elementary School in Woodstock and Ashby Lee in Quicksburg for the coming year would cost even more.

Supervisor Cindy Bailey suggested the School Board consider using part of its operations budget to fund its Capital Improvement Plan, but Supervisor Stephen Baker disagreed.

“You can’t try to fund the CIP from an operation standpoint,” he said. “It just doesn’t work on a business side.”

The School Board will present its funding request to the Board of Supervisors at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 19, before a 7 p.m. public meeting.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com