By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — The Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education addressed complaints of late buses, explored their options to decrease disturbances at schools during the summer, and were presented with a bond update during their May 13 meeting.
DPS Director of Transportation Mark Andrews provided the board with numbers on the Trinity Transportation Group routes for the district.
He said Trinity performs 23 routes for DPS, divided into two terminals with 18 from the Detroit West terminal and five from the Wyandotte terminal. Andrews also added that most of the troubles experienced came from the Detroit terminal.
From the 18 routes there were 72 buses late in January with five buses 30 minutes or later, 95 late buses in February with 11 buses 30 minutes or later and 74 buses late in March with none 30 minutes or later.
Andrews said that in March, most of the late buses were five minutes or less and that he did not have the April numbers yet, but phone call volume from parents or schools is almost none.
“In our industry, if it’s 30 minutes or later, that’s really considered a service failure,” he said. “Anything under 15 minutes depending on the frequency, that might not be their fault,” he said. “In that transition in February, because we were working with the Trinity Group, they brought in a new area manager to the Detroit West terminal and that’s when we started seeing things improve.”
Trinity’s contract expires on July 1 and the district is currently looking to put out a bid and ultimately sign a one-year contract with an option for a two-year renewal.
Trustee Roxanne McDonald said she was happy to see improvement because she received calls from parents, especially with special needs students because they need regiment.
She also added that sometimes parents don’t receive communication from Trinity for late buses in which Andrews explained that when Trinity was short drivers its office staff would go out on the road, but has hired permeant office staff.
Trustee Mary Petlichkoff asked if potentially some of the issues with the lateness could be from traffic conditions or getting students on and off the bus.
“Not 100 percent of the time, but usually under 15 minutes it usually isn’t the bus’ problem or fault at being late, it could be traffic, weather or they’re being a little more patient because these are all special education families they are providing services for.”
Another topic discussed during the meeting was building use policy due to complaints from residents about adults using the outdoor basketball courts late at night and also causing damage.
DPS Communications Director David Mustonen said the schools are used by the city for recreation programs, by community groups, and two of them are rented for Arabic schools that run on the weekend. Anyone interested in using or renting a district facility can fill out a form and then the process is facilitated by the DPS Adult and Community Education program.
“We want to make our facilities available to the public as much as possible, of course there’s always that balance between interfering with or taking up resources from the original intent which is for our students,” Mustonen said. “Then also we do have neighborhood schools, which means we are part of a neighborhood, and like any good neighbor, you want to cooperate with your neighbors, you want to get along with your neighbors and at the same time if there are any concerns or problems going on you want to address those so you are a good neighbor.”
As for common everyday use, Mustonen said playgrounds and tracks are used by people in the neighborhood including children or adults after school and on the weekends.
He said a reoccurring issue is when adults use the basketball courts late at night — at 10 p.m., 11 p.m. to midnight — and even used to the point where they were damaged.
“Neighbors who live by the schools expect a certain amount of activity around after school and on the weekends and are usually flexible about that,” Mustonen said.
Something that the district has allowed, is individual schools to use their discretion where issues have taken place. That includes removing rims over the summertime of other accommodations to limit the basketball court use, Mustonen added.
DPS Executive Director of Student Achievement Shannon Peterson said she made a recommendation to a principal about taking the nets down at the end of the school year so the problem doesn’t continue over the summer.
She also said that complaints she received included lighting up the courts with a vehicle, basketball being played at 2 a.m., foul language and paraphernalia that is left behind.
Peterson said the police have been called but the issues continue. He said if the facilities are there and they belong to the taxpayers the district should have a uniform policy for every building.
“I truly don’t believe it’s fair that you drive by some of these schools and the facilities and they’ve got the nice flowers out there and the kids are playing basketball and there are parents walking with their kids around the track,” Trustee Hussein Berry said. “Then you drive by another school and, with all due respect, it just doesn’t look good. The rims are down, nobody’s there. It’s like vacant.”
DPS Director of Maintenance, Safety and Security Don Ball said video surveillance on buildings is part of the bond work the district is currently doing and are looking at additional cameras at middle schools and some elementary schools if necessary.
Petlichkoff made the suggestion that schools could create a basketball court on the back end of the property away from neighbors or nearby houses. The board agreed that further discussion was needed before a decision is made on stricter restrictions.
DPS Executive Director of Business & Operations Thomas Wall gave the board a quick update on the bond development for district needs during the next three to six years.
The Infrastructure Task Force Committee’s four prioritized areas are infrastructure, meeting current and future capacity needs, campus safety and equity and to continue increasing the number of air conditioned facilities or other priorities identified by the board.
Wall said the critical need amount is $106.5 million and deferred need amount is at $139.4 million as the district starts to look at the most urgent areas of need.
Over the last couple of years the district’s K-12 enrollment has decreased 4.2 percent, the K-5 projected enrollment is below 8,000 for the first time in seven years, enrollment for grades 6-8 is below 4,500 students for the first time in five years and enrollment for grades 9-12 has steadied at approximately 6,400 students.
Those numbers will be taken into consideration when it comes to deciding where extra classrooms should be added in schools, Wall said.
Another presentation made at the meeting was about a proposed random drug testing program for athletes as the concern over vaping, nicotine toothpicks and opioids grows, while educating students on healthy living.
The types of testing the district is exploring a 10 panel test, limited steroid testing and nicotine testing because of the vaping. A committee was formed and made the recommendation that all students in extracurricular activities that aren’t getting a grade will submit to radon urine tests in the fall, winter, spring and another random date.
Under the program, if students self report that they would not pass the test they can avoid a penalty, receive counseling and submit to the next two random testing sessions.
Also suggested is an opt-in option where parents can choose to include students who are not participating in extracurricular activities.
The point of contact between the testing facility and district would be DPS Director of Student Services Abe Mashhour.
Aproximately 50 students per school will be tested each cycle, and the cost is estimated at $20,000 a year with an education program and out-of-house counseling program included within the drug testing program. A counseling session would be used if a student tests positive along with a penalty of a student missing 20 percent of a sports season or activity for the first offense.
The second offense could lead to students missing a whole year from their extracurricular activity and a third offense would be never allowing a student to participate again.
If the board approves, the district’s athletic code of conduct would need to be updated, possibly adjusting the education program for physical education classes starting in middle school, choosing a counseling program for educating students who test positive and creating a parent permission program to add in athletics to the physical form.
“We’re trying to be proactive in a lot of ways with this,” Mashhour said. “This isn’t trying to catch kids doing something wrong. We’re trying to encourage kids to do the right thing as they should. So they understand the ramifications of it can be pretty severe, things that will hit close to home as far as missing part of their sports season.
“One of the things it will allow us to do is — a lot of times people, especially students in high school and middle school succumb to peer pressure and this kind of gives them an out to say, ‘I’m too nervous, I don’t want to vape or smoke weed because I don’t know if I’m going to be tested.’”
Great Lakes Biomedical owner Kyle Prueter said his company conducts drug testing for 150 school districts in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania with a purpose of drug use prevention.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])