Cumberland County Schools will soon make use of a “community engagement” bus.
The Board of Education voted 6-3 Tuesday to approve the use of $109,000 in federal funding to purchase the bus. Local tax dollars won’t be used for the purchase as the money will be taken from the district’s elementary and secondary school emergency relief fund, federal COVID-19 relief funding allocated by Congress to local school districts during the earlier parts of the pandemic.
Board Chair Deanna Jones and members Carrie Sutton and Judy Musgrave voted against the measure.
According to the district, the bus will be customized with Wi-Fi and iPads and other electronic devices. The equipment will be used to share academic-related information with families at the neighborhood level.
The bus that the district will purchase has been driven just over 3,800 miles and will include a full warranty for the first 100,000 miles.
And though federal funding will be used to purchase the bus, Lindsay Whitley, associate superintendent of communication and community engagement, said that district funds will be needed to pay for regular maintenance.
In response to concerns from Musgrave about cost sustainability, Whitley said the district has determined that current buses could not be used for the type of community engagement that this project will entail.
Whitley said the bus will be used to close achievement gaps among students.
“As we think about closing the achievement gaps, as we think about Black and brown students, as we think about going into all neighborhoods and trying to reach parents where they are and provide them with resources and information,” Whitley said, “this isn't the only way. But it is another strategy that we can employ to get helpful, credible and district resources to those families.”
Discussion among board
Board member Nathan Warfel, who voted to approve the funds, said a community engagement bus would have benefited him as a CCS student.
“As a child growing up in a neighborhood next to Sherwood Park, if there was something like this showing up in our neighborhood,” Warfel said, “if there was a bus from Cumberland County Schools showing up with iPads in the headrests and activities for kids to do, I think I would have felt more connected to the school system than I did as a child.”
Board member Susan Williams, a former CCS teacher, said it can be difficult to engage students and parents outside school, especially for families without reliable transportation. From her view, a community engagement bus could help overcome that.
“The resources on that bus, I believe, could be beneficial not just to children but to the parents also,” Williams said.
Musgrave, who voted against purchasing the bus, said the money should be used in other ways to increase the quality of student education.
“I want to quit throwing money at things so that we can get some quality education for our children,” she said.
Board member Donna Vann, who voted for purchasing the bus, emphasized that the federal funding is for one-time use and cannot be used for other things such as funding higher teacher salaries.
Board Chair Jones, while clarifying that she thinks Superintendent Marvin Connelly and his staff are doing a good job, said it’s not the right time for something like a community engagement bus.
“We should look at other ways of using that money,” Jones said.
Ben Sessoms covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.