The new academic year is underway, but getting to classes is proving more challenging than school officials anticipated, the Board of Education was told Tuesday night.
Superintendent of Schools David Title, in his "opening of school update" to the school board, said that transportation issues have been among the most problematic since the 2013-14 school year began in late August.
Title said some school buses are still running late, and that local road and bridge work and closed lanes "really throws a monkey wrench in the bus system."
Some bridges in town are too low for new school buses to travel under, and that school officials are dealing with 150 requests from parents to change bus stops because they feel the stops are not in safe locations.
John Ficke, the school district's transportation director, confirmed Wednesday that the new buses are more than 11 feet high and aren't able to pass under bridges on Westway Road, Center Street and Spruce Street in the town's Southport neighborhood, as well the North Pine Creek Road, Round Hill Road and North Benson Road railroad underpasses off the Post Road.
"The problem is the buses are over 11 feet tall and the bridges are 9 feet 11 inches, 9 feet 6 inches and 9 free 8 inches," he said. "The buses have to go around instead of cutting through and picking up, so we had to do some re-routing of the buses."
Ficke said school buses are now manufactured at a taller height and no longer have low-profile tires. "There's not much that can be done with that," he said.
He added that all bus routes were diverted away from the low bridges because school officials didn't want to take a chance that a driver in a new bus may think he or she is driving a vehicle the same height of the older buses.
In terms of enrollment in the town's 16 public schools this year, Title told the board, "We have a lot of kids in the school system. Kindergarten is holding up its end of the bargain. There just doesn't seem to be any decline in sight."
On Sept. 6, he said, the town had an enrollment of 715 kindergarten students, an increase of 32 students from last Oct. 1, but the overall number of students in pre-kindergarten through grade 5 is only one student more because of open slots in Burr Elementary School's and Dwight School's pre-kindergarten programs that are expected to be filled later this fall when children reach the age of 3.
Fairfield Woods Middle School, which was recently expanded, is now the largest middle school of the three in town with 930 students, compared to 851 last Oct. 1.
Title said Fairfield Warde High School has more students this year than school officials expected, while Fairfield Ludlowe High School has fewer students than expected. Warde on Sept. 6 had 1,461 students -- 68 more than last year -- while Ludlowe had 1,491, 35 fewer than last year.
Overall enrollment in pre-kindergarten through high school on Sept. 6 was 10,254 students, which was 19 fewer students than Oct. 1. But Title said the Sept. 6 numbers were subject to change and that overall enrollment compared to last year "was pretty close to a wash."
The number of teachers that school officials predicted would be needed for the new academic year is only a fraction of a full-time equivalent off, Title said. "We needed one additional teacher at the elementary schools, but decreased fractions elsewhere," he said. "It really worked out pretty close to what we expected on our FTE counts."
Meanwhile, Title said he hopes that remediating Osborn Hill School of elevated PCB levels would completed soon. He said the Board of Education wouldn't have to spend money from its operating budget for followup work because enough money is in the contingency account of the $825,000 appropriation approved by town boards.
Infinite Campus, a Web-based student information system where parents and students can access class schedules, assignments, grades and attendance records, "has growing pains," Title also reported.
Two parents who spoke during during public comment portion of the meeting agreed, saying high school freshmen have trouble gaining access to the system and students aren't receiving messages on their cell phones.