09/14/06 — District still working out kinks in staggered schedule for buses

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District still working out kinks in staggered schedule for buses

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 14, 2006 1:56 PM

A staggered bus schedule in the Eastern Wayne schools area is causing some questions from parents as Wayne County Public Schools officials try to come up with a transportation schedule that is cost-effective and convenient for students.

And for right now, school officials are asking parents to give the new bus arrangement a chance to work.

This year, Wayne County Public Schools implemented a staggered bus schedule in the Eastern Wayne area much like the one that has been used for years in the central attendance area. The schedule means the same bus drivers and buses can be used more efficiently, said Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services.

"We have shortened the routes to make sure we're as efficient as we can be," he said. "We're looking at efficiency in boarding our students so that we can get them home in a timely manner."

The News-Argus has received several calls from parents of Eastern Wayne Elementary School students, dissatisfied that their children are having to wait until late in the afternoon for a bus to get home.

School officials say they understand the concerns and asked for patience, saying the system has worked in other areas and will work here.

"Over 50 percent of our schools have the tiered system," Hill said. In addition to the schools in the city, the same bus schedule is being used at Mount Olive Middle and Carver Elementary, Brogden Primary and Brogden Middle, Meadow Lane Elementary and Greenwood Middle, he said.

"We have a three-tiered system at Rosewood. We actually have middle school and high school students ride together," he said.

The only part of the district experiencing the change this year is Eastern Wayne, and that decision was not made arbitrarily, Hill said.

It was prompted by an efficiency study conducted by the consulting firm the county commission hired last year to address the needs in the school system, he said. Evergreen Solutions' report contained very specific findings and recommendations toward that end, he added.

"WCPS has not designed its school start and end schedule to maximize student transportation efficiency," the report said. Staggering school start times by school level reduces the need for additional buses, it continued.

Evergreen recommended the school system move to a staggered school opening and closing schedule, noting that while the initial adjustment "may be challenging, the transition should be completed without extreme difficulty as has been done in many school districts around the country."

Hill said that there are always bugs to work out at the beginning of a school year. More people tend to ride the buses at the outset, and it takes longer to run the route, he explained.

"We make them stop at every stop just to make sure we don't leave children," he said. With the added component of other traffic on the road, especially in a congested area like Eastern Wayne where there are three schools in close proximity and few alternate routes of travel, it naturally causes delays.

"We apologize for that. We don't want any kids to just sit there," Hill said.

So the school system has tweaked the start and dismissal times at the three schools to accommodate that. Officials are also working with the school principals on ways to load the buses even quicker, Hill said.

"Our goal is to have the buses loaded and departed in five to seven minutes" after school is dismissed, he said.

In the Evergreen report, the staggered schedule is justified by the fact that "significant savings can be achieved with no impact on the educational program of the school system." It goes on to say that the recommendation "may not be popular initially; however, when resources are limited in a school district, it is best to make the reductions that have the least impact on the classroom. This is one such reduction."

Hill said the explanation "does not justify the lateness. It tells why we did it."

"We did this before Evergreen, but when the county commissioners brought in Evergreen, everything that's in (the report), we're having to do."