WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A lack of clear leadership, a “culture of distrust” and inadequate staffing were among the factors involved in a school transportation meltdown here this fall, an independent report has found.
When the new school year began on Aug. 17, the School District of Palm Beach County was plagued with late and overcrowded buses and widespread routing problems.
The district implemented a new routing system before the beginning of the school year, and new Superintendent Robert Avossa said that there was not enough time for testing and training. He also noted that the district did not have enough school bus drivers to cover all of the routes in the required timeframe.
Avossa brought in an outside attorney, Eugene Pettis, to investigate the district’s transportation troubles.
According to Pettis’ report, released by the district on Wednesday, “The problems confronted during the August 2015 rollout of the routing software project were the result of multi-system failures throughout the School District.”
Pettis wrote that those failures, which were in such areas as leadership, collaboration and communications, “created an environment for the perfect storm and resulted in a failed project that should have been foreseeable and avoidable.”
As one example, Pettis found that the Palm Beach district has a chain-of-command problem. Employees often circumvent their supervisors and go to upper management, according to the report, which leads to supervisors being left out of important communications.
Another factor in the transportation debacle, Pettis found, was the district’s “culture of distrust that paralyzes individuals from giving their full potential.”
The report also cites inadequate staffing for the project and the routing department, and it suggests that pressure from a school board member to launch a parental app for the start of the school year led to the new routing system being rolled out “before it was fully developed and tested.”
In releasing Pettis' report last week, Palm Beach district officials said that much progress has been made in improving transportation over the past three months. As an example, school bus on-time performance is reportedly up to 95%. On the first day of school, the on-time rate was 60%.
In addition to Pettis’ investigation, Palm Beach commissioned a peer review by the Council of the Great City Schools, which will examine the district’s transportation services and offer recommendations for improvement.
“Once again I apologize for delays and struggles faced by our parents, students, teachers and administrators as a result of late and no-show buses,” Superintendent Avossa said. “I guarantee that we are working on a long term plan that will ensure that this does not happen again.”
To read Pettis’ full report, go here.
Watch a press conference held by Avossa on Wednesday in the video below.