By mtjulietintern

Angie Mayes • Mt. Juliet News
Wilson County school board member Linda Armistead (center) speaks during Thursday night’s Wilson County Board of Education meeting. Armistead is flanked by board member Tom Sottek and Director of Schools Donna Wright.

The Wilson County Board of Education agreed a vote was in order to add bus drivers and new bus routes Thursday night at a work session.

According to Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall, transportation director Jerry Parlow requested 10 new drivers and routes for the upcoming school year. Turnover is a problem among bus drivers, not just in Wilson County, and Hall said in addition to filling the spots of those who have left, an additional 10 drivers are wanted.

Board chair Larry Tomlinson said he is concerned with the amount of time the students are on buses.

“In my area, there are kids who get on the bus at [5:40 a.m.],” Tomlinson told his fellow board members.

Board member Bill Robinson was also concerned with the amount of time students were on the buses.

“I’ve heard that some students are on the buses for one-and-a-half hours,” he said.

If the time students are on buses is lessened – ideally an hour or less – then more buses, drivers and routes will be needed, Hall said.

“We’re always training people to drive buses,” Hall said.

The school board will vote Monday on whether it will move money from the board’s general fund to a line item to hire more drivers and buses.

The age of school bus drivers may soon change, Hall said. The state raised the minimum age to 25 after a fatal crash in Chattanooga in 2016. However, Congress is discussing whether to lower the age to 19 because of a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers.

With the addition of drivers comes the purchase of new buses and new potential legislation about seat belts. Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended lap-and-shoulder belts on vehicles that weigh less than 10,000 pounds. But it will be up to each state to decide to require seat belts on vehicles weight more than 10,000 pounds.

In addition, if buses are ordered with seat belts in them, no more than two students will be able to sit in a seat, which would reduce the capacity of each bus. That would require more buses, as well, Hall said.

The board also discussed keeping student meal prices the same for the upcoming school year. The prices are $2 for lunch and $1.50 for breakfast and would remain those amounts if approved by the board.

Despite its designation as “the second richest county in the state,” according to Tomlinson, the school system still has more than 400 homeless students.

Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright said the school system helps provide food and families get housing.

“We had one family who was living in a tent,” she said.

Tomlinson said when he tells people Wilson County Schools has more than 400 homeless students, “their jaws drop. But we do provide services for people who don’t always have access.”

Because the school system doesn’t have the required number of disadvantaged students, it isn’t eligible for the summer feeding program. The school system works with area churches and other organizations to help provide meals for students in need. The meals help feed students when they are at home, said Anne Barger with the district’s child nutrition program.

The school system is also bracing for its largest kindergarten class in history, Wright said. There are currently 1,093 kindergarteners enrolled. Others will enroll in the summer, and those who move to the area will enroll when they move to Wilson County, Wright said.

Wright said she constantly monitors building permits to help the school system keep a grip on the number of potential students who could enter the school system in coming years.

“They’re selling the homes before they break ground,” she said of the growth within Wilson County.

Students who are 5 years old by Aug. 15 can enter the next kindergarten class. The only exception would be younger students who move to the district and were enrolled in kindergarten in another district may enter kindergarten in Wilson County.

Board voted on these and other matters Monday at 6 p.m. at the central office at 415 Harding Drive in Lebanon. A full recap of the meeting will appear in next week’s Mt. Juliet News.

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News