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FRIDAY, AUGUST 10, 2007
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Athens buses hit road with few problems
Decatur only school system in area not offering busing for all students

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com340-2445

ATHENS — When buses took to the streets of Athens on Thursday, that left Decatur as the only school system in the area that does not operate a comprehensive busing system.

It marked the first time Athens has offered busing, and about 850 students took advantage.

Transportation Director Donnie Powers said the first day went well except for one bus breaking down when a hose broke. It caused students to arrive slightly late for class at Athens Elementary.

"We had other drivers come get the kids and take them on to school," he said. "Overall, the day went OK. The kids have been excited about riding, and the drivers have been excited about getting started."

A concern Powers had was that drivers are not accustomed to seeing buses stopping in the city, especially on U.S. 72.

"But the Police Department did an excellent job of watching drivers," Powers said.

Sgt. Brett Constable said no officers on either the morning shift or the afternoon shift had to write warnings or give tickets to drivers for not stopping for buses.

Necessary for growth

Busing became necessary for Athens because growth is extending eastward, but the city does not have any schools east of Interstate 65.

A parent living on Mooresville Road who works in Huntsville had to drive west 10 miles to take a child to Athens Intermediate and then backtrack toward Huntsville.

Developers started approaching the City Council with de-annexation requests because they said they could sell homes quicker if their subdivisions were in the Creekside Elementary and East Limestone High School district in the county, which offers busing.

Help from state

Finding money to finance transportation was an issue until Athens was able to get money from the state Department of Education this year.

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.

Decatur bus surveys

Decatur City Schools sent home surveys Thursday with students seeking input on the interest in a comprehensive bus service. Superintendent Sam Houston is asking parents to return the surveys within the next week.

Decatur is the only local school system that does not offer a comprehensive bus service for all elementary, middle school and high school students. The system does, however, offer bus service as part of its elementary desegregation plan and for elementary and middle school students living two miles or more from school.

- Bayne Hughes

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