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Taxpayers question school vehicle use

Members of the Johnson County School Board listen to Herbie Adams and Dr. Stephen Long explain the reasoning behind maintenance workers driving school vehicles home. According to Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox, there’s been a policy set since 1996.  Screen capture.

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

The Johnson County School Board tabled a discussion during the October Board meeting because of missing member Gary Matheson. Matheson brought concerns about maintenance vehicle use to the Board during its Thursday, November 5 meeting, reporting people in his district expressed concern. The main issue revolves around workers driving home maintenance vehicles from the school bus garage.

“I don’t see why they need to drive every maintenance vehicle home,” Matheson reiterated a concerned citizen’s words. “He said that’s costing the taxpayers money. Why can’t you maybe limit it down to one person driving one home?”

There is a particular policy, the Special Use of School Vehicles Policy established in 1996 and updated in 2002, for this situation, according to Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox. These workers are technically on call 24 hours a day. Transportation Supervisor Dr. Stephen Long explained that this policy seems to read as if having the vehicle and tools is what makes employees on-call. CTE and Maintenance Supervisor Herbie Adams explained why he believes using these vehicles is necessary.

“We had a three-inch waterline break at the middle school last Thursday night,” Adams explained. “They were there until 7 o’clock fixing that, all of them were. There are just numerous things they do after hours, and there are numerous things we do during the day that I wouldn’t ask you, wouldn’t ask Mr. Matheson, I wouldn’t ask of anyone to do with their own vehicle. It’s just the nature of the job. I don’t think it’s fair to ask them not to.”

Within the last month, maintenance workers have been working on busted pipes at two different locations, a main-line break at Laurel Elementary and a three-inch waterline break at Johnson County Middle School, outside of normal work hours. Simcox reports workers were at Laurel as early at 4 a.m. and work at JCMS stopped the school from being canceled.

“Does it cost a little bit?” Adams asked. “It probably does. But if we have something bad happen at one of our facilities, what is easier to replace, a vehicle and some gas or our facilities? What is more important?”

Board member Mike Payne pointed out they needed to take into account the money these workers are saving by doing particular jobs normally handled by other companies. These employees sometimes take on sewage problems that would otherwise be outsourced to an outside company. One example is a recent job at Roan Creek Elementary. Adams estimates the Norwell cost at around $6,000, while maintenance workers can do the job between $2,000 and $2,500. Dr. Long reports two separate occasions where this happened. This would be an approximate savings of between $7,000 and $8,000.

Board members requested that officials bring data on how much driving these vehicles home costs to the December 10 meeting. For more information, visit jocoed.net or watch the archived video of the meeting on the Board’s Youtube Channel, Johnson County Schools TN Video.