Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014
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School district trying to reduce bus problems

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LAND O’ LAKES — Pasco County schools started the academic year in August with more than a few miffed parents.

Problems with late school buses and a lack of communication about the buses left parents steaming, and transportation officials say they are determined to avoid a repeat performance when the 2014-15 school year begins.

They plan several changes aimed at alleviating difficulties the district faces at the end of each summer break when schools reopen and buses take to the roads, in some cases with new drivers, new students and reworked routes.

Among the changes: A centralized call center operating the first two weeks of school will allow parents to find out more quickly if their child’s bus is running on schedule; an iPad reporting system will track the time buses arrive and leave schools at the end of the day; and law enforcement officials will coordinate with principals to better control car-loop traffic jams that block bus access to the campuses.

The exasperation parents feel when they try to find out why their child’s bus hasn’t arrived at the stop at the end of the day is understandable, said Ray Bonti, the district’s executive director for support services.

Usually, the parents call the school, which refers them to the transportation department, where they get a busy signal, Bonti told school board members at a workshop this week.

“Logistically, it didn’t work,” he said. “Parents were extremely frustrated.”

This August, operators at the call center will handle parent inquiries the first two weeks of school. The people manning the call center will have access to better information, too, because of the iPad tracking system. That system would let them know, for example, that a bus left a school 15 minutes later than scheduled.

Staff members at elementary schools also will electronically check off each student who boards the bus, something drivers have done on paper. That will make information about who is on the bus more readily available, said Gary Sawyer, the district’s transportation director.

“As soon as they check the iPad, we can see (which students) are on the bus,” Sawyer said. “That’s a big plus for us.”

Connerton Elementary in Land O’ Lakes and Cotee River Elementary in New Port Richey already are using the system, and the principals of those two schools will assist in a training session for school-based administrators in March, Bonti said.

Most of the monitoring of elementary students getting on the bus will take place the first 10 days of school as students become accustomed to the routine and bus drivers get to know the students, said Tad Kledzik, a transportation supervisor.

“If schools want to continue (beyond that), we will support that,” he said.

The district also plans better communication with parents even before the school year begins. Letters or automated telephone calls will be used to provide bus stop information or let parents know that a student in a choice program, such as the International Baccalaureate or Cambridge programs, could face an extended bus ride.

The district also will communicate with parents to better nail down which students plan to ride buses and their addresses so fewer last-minute route changes are needed as the first day of school approaches, officials said.

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