Some Bulloch County children with special needs will spend less time on the bus next school year if officials agree on a Statesboro location for the Cedarwood Program.
Cedarwood is part of the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, a state agency that operates schools for children with emotional and behavioral disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe autism. The Cedarwood site that serves Bulloch, Candler, Evans and Tattnall counties currently is in Claxton, where it shares a building with the Claxton Middle School cafeteria.
But a new Claxton Middle School on the other side of town is scheduled to open this summer. The old school’s cafeteria will no longer be needed, and Evans County’s school board plans to have the building torn down, eventually.
So Cedarwood officials recently asked Bulloch’s school system to host the program for Bulloch and at least some of the other three counties beginning with the 2012-2013 term. District officials are clearly receptive to the idea.
“I believe that it is to our advantage,” said Bulloch County School Superintendent Lewis Holloway. “I don’t know how we could handle it any other way, and these are our students and we need to serve them.”
Of the approximately 40 students currently served by Cedarwood’s Claxton site, 20 are from Bulloch County. The Bulloch school system, which previously hosted its own Cedarwood classrooms on the Langston Chapel Elementary, Langston Chapel Middle and Statesboro High School campuses, has footed higher transportation costs since the consolidation with the Claxton site three years ago.
After consulting with the district’s special education director and transportation director, Bulloch Schools Public
Relations Specialist Hayley Greene confirmed a $50,000 cost estimate for transporting the 20 children to and from Claxton this school year.
A bus makes the 25-mile trip from Statesboro to Claxton, and back, three times a day, she said. A midday trip is necessary because some students attend Cedarwood for only half the day. The $50,000 estimate includes salaries for the driver and a state-required bus monitor, as well as fuel and maintenance costs. Additionally, Greene said, one student needed a paraprofessional to accompany him or her on the commute, but the paraprofessional now helps in the classroom as well.
Greene also relayed Special Education Director Leslie Schlierf’s support for Bulloch County hosting Cedarwood. Reduced transportation time will mean more instruction time and allow the school system’s special education and regular classroom teachers to work more closely with Cedarwood in meeting students’ needs, say these school system staffers.
The Board of Education heard discussion of the request at its Jan. 26 meeting. No decision was made, but the board instructed administrators to consult Cedarwood leaders on the choice of a site. The two sites suggested are the old Julia P. Bryant Elementary School and Sallie Zetterower Elementary School buildings, both replaced by new facilities under those names during the 2010-’11 school year.
This year the former Julia P. Bryant Elementary building is serving as the Mattie Lively Elementary School location while the new Mattie Lively Elementary building is completed. But the old JPB building is expected to be available before the start of the 2012-’13 school year.
Two sites identified
The two sites are very similar and either could have advantages, Holloway suggested in an interview. He noted that one portion of the former Sallie Zetterower complex is newer than the Julia P. Bryant buildings but that the old JPB school is adjacent to the new one – and its cafeteria.
“School lunch facilities are an issue,” Holloway said. “Old Julia P. is right next to the new Julia P., which can handle off-site lunches fairly easily.”
In any case, the school system should have no added expense in hosting the program, he said, because Cedarwood GNETS will pay its own utility bills and pick up building maintenance costs.
“I think it would create additional district resources,” Holloway said.
Cedarwood GNETS Director Jeannie Morris, contacted at her office in Baxley, confirmed that she would visit Statesboro soon to look at the sites. She said she would be pleased to have either.
However, Morris added that some details of the move have not been worked out from Cedarwood’s perspective. In particular, Tattnall County is geographically large, and its distance from Statesboro could create a very long bus ride for some students, she said.
So Morris said that officials will look at other possibilities for serving Tattnall students, as an alternative to including that county in the proposed Statesboro site.
Going back to Bulloch
“We’re very excited about the possibility of going back to Bulloch County. It’s the largest school system that we serve,” Morris said. “But we want to be sensitive to our parents as well.”
Cedarwood, one of 24 GNETS programs in the state, serves nine school systems. It currently has sites in Baxley and Lyons, as well as Claxton. With GNETS receiving direct state funding, counties contribute various in-kind services, such as transportation, host sites or sometimes the salary of a paraprofessional, Morris said.
Claxton and Evans County have hosted a Cedarwood program for longer than the three years that Bulloch County has been merged into the site.
If the Statesboro site becomes a reality, the challenge of transporting students will shift to the Evans County schools. Evans students make up a smaller share of the total, with eight now in the program, according to Evans County School Superintendent Joy Collins.
To limit costs, Collins’ staff is looking at having an Evans County bus driver who lives in Bulloch County provide transportation to Statesboro with a bus that would remain at the driver’s home during the day.
“It will mean a little more transportation costs but less building maintenance and things like that,” Collins said.