08/29/12 — Delays plague fleet of school buses

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Delays plague fleet of school buses

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 29, 2012 1:46 PM

The first day of school Monday might have gone off without a hitch, but transportation was another matter.

Bus problems were at the top of the list of complaints received by the district.

The transportation department is used to being inundated with calls about late buses and problems with bus stops during the first few days of school.

Raymond Smith, director of the department, announced last week to expect delays as his staff continues to iron out routes and to adjust to the ongoing changes in the number of student bus riders. A shortage of bus drivers also added to the problem, officials said.

Ken Derksen, director of communication services and public information officer, put it more simply Tuesday.

"New drivers, new routes, new students -- all those things compound the efficiency and then all the other things that pop up," he said.

No matter what is done in anticipation of a new school year, traffic patterns are always a challenge. More than 200 buses on the roadways, as well as parents taking children to school, creates bottlenecks, especially in school zones. The problem is compounded further when buses are shared by more than one school.

Wayne County Public Schools had already made last-minute changes to start times at four schools to double up on buses.

Spring Creek Elementary, which formerly operated from 8:30 a.m. until 3:15 p.m., now runs a schedule of 8:30 a.m. until 3:45 p.m. Spring Creek High School, meanwhile, moved its hours back, from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. to 7:45 a.m. until 2:45 p.m.

Then Carver Elementary and Mount Olive Middle were added to the mix. Carver will now operate 15 minutes later, from 8:15 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., and Mount Olive Middle's schedule moved up 15 minutes, to 7:45 a.m. until 3 p.m.

While the start of school is usually accompanied by delays around the county, several areas especially experienced them this year.

"Spring Creek Elementary probably noted the most issues because of this," Derksen said. "They're on the tiered bus system. Some of the buses from the high school were running late, they were also down one bus driver, who had resigned, and a bus had broken down so they were down two buses."

Northeast Elementary also had some "unplanned absences" of bus drivers, and there were instances of buses leaving the lot as late as 5 p.m. Monday afternoon to transport students home.

"The first day of school, there were some upset parents," he said. "There's a lot of anxiety that goes with the first day of school and this compounded it."

School personnel are working hard to make sure the bus system runs smoothly, Derksen said. By Tuesday, the second day of classes, things already seemed to have improved.

"Most of them were on time. Some may have been 10 to 15 minutes behind schedule," he said. "We just appreciate parents' patience. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused and are working to resolve any transportation issues.

"It's safe to say that at the beginning of the year there's always some hiccups that can occur. There were just some contributing factors that came up. The school system does its best to address those issues."

Smith added that while his staff is focusing on smoothing out the problem, no immediate changes to bus routes will be made to the routes before the 10th day of school. That is the benchmark used by the state to determine school enrollments and teacher allocations.

Enrollment for the first day, meanwhile, including the four schools which started classes earlier in the month, was higher than the previous year.

Official headcount this year reached 18,347, compared to 18,296 for 2011.

Traditionally, the total hovers around 19,000-plus, which is expected to happen again this year.

Several schools had increased numbers this year. Charles B. Aycock High's population again grew, from 1,107 students last year to 1,148.

Eastern Wayne Middle, though, reported the highest number of additional students. Compared to last year's 561, this year there were 617 students.

Brogden Middle was up by 40 students, from 461 last year to 501, while Brogden Primary went from 728 to 751.

Spring Creek Elementary dipped by 24 students, from 933 to 909, while the high school gained 21 -- from 897 last year to 918.

Those showing enrollment drops included Eastern Wayne High, from 1,024 to 997; Grantham School, from 875 to 839 and Goldsboro High, from 494 to 470.

Two elementary schools in the city, School Street and North Drive, showed a rise in first-day numbers. North Drive had 452 last year and 472 students this year, while School Street went from 178 to 189.