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Athens City Schools is offering bus service for the first time in the system’s history, with 17 buses hitting the road at the start of the school year Thursday. About 850 students have signed up to ride the bus.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Athens City Schools is offering bus service for the first time in the system’s history, with 17 buses hitting the road at the start of the school year Thursday. About 850 students have signed up to ride the bus.

Athens school busing system ready to roll

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

ATHENS — Overseeing a school system’s first attempt to put buses on the road sounds like an arduous feat, but the man overseeing the start of a bus system for Athens City Schools is not new to adversity.

Transportation Director Donnie Powers survived a tornado that hit eastern Limestone County on April 3, 1974. The tornado pulled him from his car and threw him into a field.

Years later, as a bus driver, he was stuck on Interstate 65 near Cullman County when a tornado passed overhead. The resulting storms forced him to drive the students back to Johnson Elementary at 20 mph, but they made it home safe.

Powers served 30 years with Limestone County Schools from a driver to director of transportation.

Now, he has forgone retirement and is tackling for Athens the task of offering buses for students for the first time in system history.

School starts Thursday.

Donning a school bus tie last week, Powers talked about the preparation his drivers have undergone to be ready.

“I feel like a football team,” he said. “We’ve practiced, practiced, practiced, and we’re ready for our first game.”

Financing buses had always hindered the system, but Athens was able to get money from the State Department of Education this year to start busing. That happened because good economic times allowed a DOE rule relaxation so that if a local system wanted financial help, and could show the need and student interest, the state would include the request in the school budget that the Legislature considers.

Athens is getting $800,000 to operate the system for a year. The system will receive that money Oct. 1 instead of having to wait until Oct. 1, 2008. Athens is picking up the cost from January to Oct. 1, about $250,000.

There is definite interest in buses for Athens. About 700 students signed up in April to ride buses.

Powers said that number has increased to 850 students.

“We may have to add one or two more buses before the year is out,” Powers said.

The system now has 17 buses. One driver speaks Spanish, and one substitute driver is a fireman.

Drivers have been running their routes the past month, many stopping at homes along the way to talk to parents. Driver Janet Hardy said she loves the job.

“I can’t wait for the first day,” she said. “It’ll be crazy, but it’ll be fun.”

Hardy’s route includes the Lindsay Lane area, a high traffic area. Powers said drivers aren’t used to stopping for buses in the city, but they need to be aware buses will be running routes with children on board starting Thursday.

“We’ll have some stops on (U.S.) 72, and that concerns me, but we’ve talked with the police, and they’re going to be watching drivers,” Powers said.

Athens police has a map that denotes each driver’s route, Powers said.

So what kind of bus will students encounter Thursday? Nothing like what their parents had.

These International Buses have air conditioning, and for students’ safety, a surveillance camera and a warning system that requires that the bus driver walk to the back of the bus and check for sleeping students. If the driver doesn’t make the walk and open and shut the back door, a warning siren will sound.

The driver also can control the door, lights and bus-stop sign from the steering wheel.

“I don’t have to take my hands off the wheel to do anything,” Hardy said.

Powers said some parents are nervous about putting their children on buses for the first time.

“I know we’ll have a few kinks to work out after that first day, but these drivers are excited and are prepared,” Powers said. “We’re ready to roll.”

Athens begins busing

  • Buses will start running morning routes at 6:30 a.m.

  • Elementary school students will start school at 7:45 a.m. and get out of school at 2:30 p.m. Buses will arrive in time for students to get breakfast.

  • Athens Intermediate, Athens Middle and Athens High school schedules will remain 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • Parents need to tell their children that they are to remain seated until they reach their destination; they cannot eat or drink on the bus; and they cannot yell.

  • Kindergarten students will sit in the front of the bus.

  • Buses will load and unload in the front of each school except at Athens Elementary, where buses will do that at the side.

  • For more information, call Transportation Director Donnie Powers at 233-6637 or e-mail him at

    Holly Hollman

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