GAINESVILLE ‒ Alachua County Public Schools has announced that due to the ongoing shortage of bus drivers and the negative impact on bus schedules and school attendance, the district is making changes to its bus transportation system. The School District says the changes are necessary to significantly reduce late and non-arriving buses, increase on-time arrivals and departures, and use public funds more effectively.
Under the new system, ‘courtesy’ bus routes and magnet and school choice programs stops will be revamped. The “courtesy” bus routes for all students except those attending the highest needs elementary schools will be eliminated beginning Jan. 8.
“Courtesy” buses are those provided to students who live within two miles of their zoned school and are not ESE (Exceptional Student Education) students. Currently, courtesy routes require 16 buses at an annual cost of about $1.8 million, for which the district receives no reimbursement from the state. About 1200 students in the district currently receive courtesy busing.
Instead of courtesy busing, the district will offer parents the opportunity to request transportation if their student’s walk to school meets the state’s legal definition of a ‘hazardous walking condition.’ More information on the application process will be provided to the parents of courtesy riders in the near future.
The district will also be revamping the current system for transporting more than 1,600 students who attend magnet and other choice programs not located at their zoned school. The current ‘hub’ stops at which buses stop to pick up those students will be updated to increase efficiency and reduce the number of buses needed to transport magnet/choice students. Currently the district runs 26 magnet/choice buses at a cost of about $1.8 million.
The revised magnet/choice changes will also take effect Jan. 8 for magnet/choice students.
The School District says that the conservative estimate of the money saved by making these changes is between $750,000 and $1.4 million per year, not including the cost of drivers. The district does not plan to eliminate bus driver positions. Instead, the district’s driver shortage will be significantly reduced, which means there should be enough drivers to fill routes that don’t currently have a permanent driver and fill in for absent drivers.
The district is looking at other possible strategies to improve the efficiency of its transportation system, including the recruitment and retention of drivers. School start times may also be adjusted in future years to reduce delays and to comply with a new state law on start times.
The district’s chief of operations Maria Eunice and Transportation Director Dr. Dontarrius Rowls will be presenting the changes to the transportation system at a School Board workshop on Sept. 20 at 9 a.m. This will be an informational item only, as the School Board does not vote on bus route changes.
A district spokesperson says that information about these changes was sent to the families of bus riders Tuesday afternoon, with more details specific to magnet, choice and courtesy riders to follow in the near future.
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