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Schools celebrate vital work of bus drivers

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North Carolina School Superintendent, Mark Johnson shakes hands with Pitt County School bus drivers during a breakfast held at H.B. Sugg Bundy Elementary School Monday, Feb. 12, 2018.

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By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

FARMVILLE — North Carolina’s school bus drivers take on one of the most difficult jobs in education when they work to deliver students safely to and from class, the state superintendent of public education said during a stop in Pitt County.

Mark Johnson, the elected head of the state Department of Public Instructions, visited H.B. Sugg and Sam D. Bundy schools Monday morning to help kick off “Love the Bus” week at a breakfast celebration.

Johnson said being a bus driver is challenging due to to the uncertain elements that sometimes can happen on the road with other drivers. Bus drivers, he said, ultimately are responsible for keeping children safe while going to and from school.

“Being a bus driver is a tough job,” Johnson said to the crowd of about 20 Pitt County Schools transportation staff that attended the catered breakfast in the school’s cafeteria. “It’s long hours. It’s always having to stay alert on the road and what’s going on in your own bus.”

His appearance, though brief, featured a speech highlighting his appreciation for school bus drivers, as part of a statewide tour that will feature stops in Johnston, Wake and Forsyth county schools. 

“I’m here just to thank you all,” Johnson said. “This is the one time of the year we really make sure we give you the thanks you deserve. But I really hope that you will take with you, knowing that we thank you every day for what you do.” 

Coincidentally, school bus safety has been a recent point of emphasis for the Pitt County Board of Education. Board members on Feb. 5 unanimously approved a statement affirming the district’s commitment to securing an estimated $1.2 million to help fund interior bus cameras for every bus in the county by the start of the 2018-19 school year. 

Board members have called the time students spend on buses the most dangerous time of the day, and have been outspoken in their support of installing the cameras.

The question that remains is: Where is the money going to come from? Though Johnson said he would like to discuss having interior cameras become standard practice as well as cameras on stop arms, he said the North Carolina Department of Instruction is unable to directly fund PCS’s initiative. 

“It’s not something we have in our budget, but we definitely are there to support local school districts so that something, for example, where our office of transportation works with the local office of transportation to make a legislative request through the state for getting that kind of funding for that type of initiative,” Johnson said. 

Monica Wilkes Dupree has been involved in transportation for Pitt County Schools for more than 30 years. To her, however, what is on the outside is more important than what is on the inside. She said she would advocate for longer bus arms with bus-arm cameras.

After seeing what she estimates as three to four drivers passing a stopped bus per day, Dupree thinks the stop arm upgrades would greatly affect student safety. 

“I more favor the outside extended arm because of the safety,” Dupree said. “When I say people really don’t pay attention to the stop sign coming out, I mean they really don’t. Having the camera on the inside of the bus would be next to me, though.”

Pitt County Schools has cameras on a select number of bus stop arms, but board members have expressed an interest in expanding the program. 

Last year, Gov. Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 55 into law, which allows stop arm cameras to be used for civil finds in North Carolina. The money, then, is eligible to be funneled back into the school district, akin to the red light cameras. If implemented in Pitt County, it potentially could help fund the interior cameras, which some board members have mentioned. 

School board member Betsy Flanagan said Monday was a chance for her and other board members in attendance to talk one-on-one with Johnson. Among the topics discussed, naturally, was bus safety. 

“Safety is our top priority,” she said. “In fact, today we were talking with the state superintendent about some of the longer bus arms that you can now get. Some districts across the state are paying for them themselves, but it sure would be nice if it came from the state.” 

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.

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