JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The Jones County School District is getting bus drivers ready for detours with more than 20 bridges expected to be closed next week, some as early as Monday morning.
"This is definitely, I feel like, an emergency in our county," said Superintendent Tommy Parker Friday morning.
Of the 130 bus routes, at least 41 will be impacted by the closures, according to Parker. Drivers on those routes met with members of the district's board of transportation Friday morning.
"What we are doing is just encouraging our bus drivers to absolutely put safety first, be cognitive in what is going on around them and so they can do the best job that they can in keeping our students safe," Parker said.
While the closures will directly impact access to some neighborhoods, Parker said it may mean students will not be able to be picked-up or dropped-off. He anticipates other routes to also experience more traffic and delays with drivers steering clear of the bridge closures.
"It's just a lot of things. Just changing the daily routine and the daily schedule is going to effect more than just picking the students up and dropping them off in the afternoon," said Parker. "In the most part, we try to go into every location. But, because of what we are faced with, that may not be the case."
The district will also have to dip into its emergency fund in the budget, Parker anticipates, when drivers have to start running routes earlier and probably finishing later in the day.
"This very possibly could run into some overtime issues for them because we know already that their routes will be extended, could be as little as 15 minutes, but their routes could be extended beyond that," said Parker.
The district's drivers are paid hourly. Parker expects the real dent to come in the next school year, if the detours are still in place.
"We think we will be able to cover that, we may have to move some funds around to cover that in addition to what we budgeted already," said Parker. "But what we're really faced with is what could be in the long term in the coming school year and we'll have to address that as we build our budget for the coming year."
The anticipated closures are the result of an order signed by Gov. Phil Bryant to close 83 locally-owned bridges across Mississippi after they were deemed deficient by the National Bridge Inspection Standards and the Mississippi Office of State Aid Road Construction.
State lawmakers are now working to find a solution to come up with the funds to make emergency bridge repairs.
"Hopefully we can get the plan in place, get our students to and from school safely and hopefully during the summer, at least part of this will be resolved this summer," said Parker.
Superintendent Parker said administrators are prepared for some late arrivals and tardies next week, but said there needs to be a set schedule soon, heading into state testing.