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New region puts strain on student transportation
Gainesville schools struggling to find drivers, funding
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This fall, Gainesville High School students involved in extracurricular activities, including sports, may have to travel hundreds of miles to compete, putting stress not only on the transportation department, but the system’s wallet.

The high school moved from region 8B-AAA to 8-AAAAA this year and will be required to travel to Athens, Winder and even as far as Conyers to compete in athletic and academic events.

“The issue arises due to the fact that the Gainesville City School System was placed in a new athletic and academic district due to the size of the high school,” said board of education member David Syfan. “The result being many of the teams we play in our region are now two-and-a-half hours or more (round trip) away.”

That, coupled with rising fuel costs, have sparked new field trip procedures.

Starting this year, each school will have funding for two local (within a 20-mile radius) academic field trips per student per year.

All out-of-town academic field trips must be funded by the school’s activity accounts.

“We have crafted procedures that are not designed as rules — they are procedures to follow,” said Merrianne Dyer, superintendent. “There is still room for judgment as to individual field trip requests.”

Special performing groups or other extracurricular group trips must be paid for by some of the school’s activity account as well.

For athletic trips, however, the system will pay for regular season and playoff games. Additional trips must be paid for through the athletic departments or school activity accounts.

And on any trips of more than 60 miles each way, the system will “maximize seating capacity.” A trip to Salem High School in Conyers, for instance, would be about 150 miles round trip by interstates.

“Just competition in the new region alignment is a challenge, be it debate, literary or athletics,” said board member Sammy Smith. “This fall will be a good test for us.”

One challenge with transporting students in the new region is providing drivers. Many groups and teams will be required to leave either during school or right after to make the event on time. That could present a challenge when other buses and drivers are transporting students home from school.

“The new region has definitely put a burden on us, but we’ll do what we always do and that is work hard to try and figure out a reasonable solution,” said Syfan. “I feel confident that we’ll come up with a reasonable, practical solution that will hopefully allow us to maintain the tradition we’ve always had in support for our teams.”

Last year, the system spent $335,000 in fuel alone, not including the costs inherent with providing drivers for after-school trips.

But, Syfan said, many coaches now have a commercial driver’s license and are able to drive students to and from events, saving costs on hiring drivers.

He said the system is still working on ways to maximize efficiency, but after-school activities are important for students, both socially and academically.

“There are tons of educational studies that say if you get a student involved in some type of school activity then they do better academically,” said Syfan. “So all these activities have an indirect effect of raising student achievement.”

Regional events