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October 28, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

School boards on busing challenges, successes

In this roundtable, board members from four school districts share insight on the struggle to maintain school bus services in the face of funding shortfalls.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author

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Tom McJury, vice president of the school board for Fairport (N.Y.) Central School District. 
<p>Tom McJury, vice president of the school board for Fairport (N.Y.) Central School District. </p>

Regarding time spent on the bus, the district uses software tools to design efficient routes and revisits these routes annually to minimize bus time for students. These software tools also help to ensure the maximum efficiency of our routes, which helps to address  the community concern that the buses are not full. We must also explain that since buses collect students and bring them to a location, or return them, they are essentially at some stage of filling up or emptying out during the route, and they essentially travel empty to the beginning or the end of the route.

The district is obligated to size our routes to accommodate all potential riders. It is not like the airlines, which can overbook and then bump some riders. When all the riders do not show up, the buses will carry lighter loads.

KIMBALL: The parents in our district seem pleased with the transportation service they are receiving — particularly parents of special-needs students, who seem most appreciative of the relationship they have with their drivers.

FLUOR: For many of our parents, we provide an essential service to assure their students can get to school ready to learn. For some of the younger students and students with disabilities, our drivers actively participate in the educational process. Parents are grateful for the interest our drivers have in the well-being and safety of our students. This kindness and compassion is always evident from the first hello in the morning to the last good-bye in the afternoon. This caring and concern sets the tone for our students' success at school each and every day.

MCJURY: We get an occasional, "I don't want my child to walk this far to get on the bus." Or one of the parochial school parents will say, "My child is on the bus too long." We get occasional comments like that, but generally speaking, no news is good news.

The flip side of that is, we have a very close-knit community, yet it fascinates me that people send their children out to the bus stop every morning and have someone bring their children to school and home 180 days a year, and they don't even know their name. I always view the drivers as some of the most unheralded employees in the district. Sometimes even the kids don't know their names. I feel a lot of our drivers make the effort with the kids. Sometimes they wear a strange hat or something like that, just to give the kids a little character.

There is the occasional pop-up of a bullying incident or something like that, but certainly nothing out of the ordinary.

Martha Fluor, trustee for Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., and president of the California School Boards Association. 
<p>Martha Fluor, trustee for Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., and president of the California School Boards Association. </p>

We've got bell time discussions going on. We've had parents come to the board meetings and request that we flip our bus times around - the high schools go earlier and then our elementary kids go later. For example, my daughter, who's in 10th grade, gets on the bus at 6:40, but when she was in elementary school, she got on at 8:30. So there's parents saying, "We'd like to flip those around." But they don't comprehend the transportation impacts to that. They don't even realize how many miles our buses go. You start to talk to a parent and tell them how many miles our buses go and how many kids get transported, and it's staggering to them.

Also, a couple times a month, we get a nice letter or e-mail from a parent to the superintendent. The superintendent is great about getting it to Peter and celebrating it with the driver.

How much are you or other board members communicating with the transportation director?

MCJURY: We receive Peter's "Transportation Bulletin" newsletter every month. And once every year, we do a visit to transportation. We go through and talk to some of the drivers, talk to some of the mechanics, and just ask them if there's anything we should be aware of or any concerns they have. And then Peter is at pretty much all of our board meetings, which is great. We have a public comments section, and if something pops up, he's right there.

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