Under Poway (Calif.) Unified School District’s Flexible Route Driver program, drivers must be available at all times during seven-day periods to provide service for night/overnight field trips during the week and to serve as a substitute driver if a regular-route driver calls in sick.
POWAY, Calif. — Like many districts throughout California and the nation, Poway Unified School District (PUSD) is contending with a tight budget. However, Director of Transportation Timothy Purvis has implemented efforts at his operation that, as of the end of January, have saved the district $56,843 in charter and field trip costs, and that he anticipates will save a total of $100,000 by the end of the school year.
To boost efficiency, Purvis negotiated with the district’s bargaining unit last year, and he now assigns regular-route bus drivers who are interested to transport students during weekday night field trips.
Previously, drivers could choose which field trip they wanted to work on as long as it didn’t conflict with their required home-to-school transportation service. Purvis told SBF in an interview that there were downsides to this system. As an example, he said that he would have a driver who would be at the east side of the district at the end of the day and got a field trip with a pick-up point on the west side of the district because he or she was next in line to pick a trip, regardless of whether there may have been another driver who would already be, at the end of the day, close to the field trip pickup point.
In addition to assigning regular-route drivers to their field trips, Purvis implemented the Flexible Route Driver program. Under the program, three positions are available to school bus drivers throughout the year, and the drivers who fill the positions are guaranteed a minimum of 20 hours of work per week (although Purvis says they average between 30 and 35 hours per week).
The drivers who fill the positions are required to be available to provide service for night/overnight field trips during the week, and they must also be available to serve as a substitute driver if a regular-route driver calls in sick. Purvis assigns the “flex drivers” to the routes/field trips — they don’t bid on them.
“In essence, the drivers make themselves available to us 24/7, meaning 24 hours a day for a full seven-day period,” Purvis explained. “There is a caveat that I negotiated in the contract that allows a flex driver to take off up to three segments a week. Each day has two segments — an a.m. and a p.m. — so three segments equates to a day and a half.”
Flexible route drivers who want or need to take time off during the seven-day period must notify the scheduler the Tuesday prior to the week that they are assigned to work.
Purvis stressed that the flexible route drivers are not “field trip drivers.” He said that while the position was intended and has been predominantly applied to covering field trips, especially those that were contracted out in the past because they conflicted with the operation’s normal home-to-school routes, the drivers may be and are often used as substitute route drivers. He added that the drivers who expressed an interest in filling the positions were drivers who have been with the district for a while who aren’t working solely to get the district’s benefits, and who may use the money they’re paid as a secondary income or a retirement income.
In addition to saving the district money, Purvis says the program has increased the department’s field trip capabilities.
“Out of my approximate 3,300 field trips this year, we’re anticipating only contracting about 4 percent,” he said. (Prior to implementing the program, Purvis was anticipating contracting 10 percent of the district’s field trips.)
Purvis gave an example of the savings that providing field and charter trip service in-house generates. During the week of Nov. 15 to Nov. 19, PUSD’s flexible route drivers provided service for 12 of the district’s field trips. He said the in-house charge was $2,255. If the district had contracted that service, the charge would have been $6,192.
(Purvis emphasized that he’s not faulting or critical of school bus contractors. He understands that they have to charge a certain amount for a particular number of hours, and that they have a minimum number of hours that drivers have to work in order for the service to be worthwhile for the company. Also, he depends on contractors to provide service for the trips that his operation can’t cover.)
Feedback on the Flexible Route Driver program has been positive. “The three drivers love it. It’s outside the norm of what a driver’s work day is normally like,” Purvis said, adding that he put together a study committee that will meet four times throughout the course of the year to analyze the program’s success and how it’s working for the bargaining unit members who chose the positions.
For more information about the Flexible Route Driver program, contact Purvis at (858) 748-0010, ext. 2043.