A Louisiana school district has come up with an unusual way to meet its need for highly qualified educators: a comfortable bus that will drive teachers to and from schools in the remote district.
The Plaquemines Parish school board last month approved a plan to buy a bus so it can offer a free daily round trip from Belle Chasse, a suburb of New Orleans, to schools in the district that are some 40 to 60 miles away.
Ben Fussell, the district’s finance director, said that a lack of good roads and the remote location of the parish, or county, are making it harder for the 4,000-student district to recruit teachers. The parish is at the state’s swampy, southeastern tip, which juts out into the Gulf of Mexico.
“Our parish is very exposed to hurricanes, and we are on the lower end as far as amenities are concerned, which is probably why people would choose not to live here, but would rather live closer to shopping centers and movies,” Mr. Fussell said.
The Plaquemines Parish, La., school district plans to bus teachers from Belle Chasse to several of its remote schools.
What spurred the board to accept the bus idea, first proposed by Superintendent James C. Hoyle, was a recent state accountability report showing that Plaquemines Parish placed 60th out of 66 Louisiana school districts for its proportion of “highly qualified” teachers, or teachers who are certified in all core subjects that they teach, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The state report issued last month said only 76 percent of teachers in the district were highly qualified. The end of the 2005-06 school year is the deadline for compliance under the federal law.
The district already offers its teachers some employment incentives: They get a travel allowance for their daily commutes, and those who choose to live in Plaquemines Parish can move into district-owned apartments at bargain rents.
Mr. Fussell said district officials are looking for a bus that will provide a pleasant travel environment for the teachers. It will be air-conditioned, with reclining seats and a sound system.
“We wouldn’t want them traveling that far in discomfort,” Mr. Fussell said. Teachers could rest in the reclining seats, he added, for the hour or more it would take for some of them to reach their destinations. The teachers could park their cars at the bus pickup point in Belle Chasse.
State law requires the district to advertise for bids from bus sellers. The district last week received one such bid, but decided not to go with it because the bus was not up to expectations, Mr. Fussell said. The school district expects to spend around $50,000 for the bus.
The district is now engaged in discussions with a teacher who works at Boothville-Venice High School, the school that is farthest from Belle Chasse, to take the job of driving the bus to and from the New Orleans suburb every day, Mr. Fussell said.
If a teacher is tapped for the bus driving duties, he or she will get extra pay, the district said.