Saturday, February 17, 2018
Education

Pasco School District aims to avoid first-day bus woes

LAND O'LAKES — Where do you live?

The Pasco County School District is asking parents to confirm their addresses, preferably by Friday. The information will allow officials to design school bus routes earlier than usual, to help avoid chaos in the fall.

Routes would be set by June 27, with no changes before Sept. 2.

"We want to make it more efficient for the beginning of school," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

This past August, superintendent Kurt Browning and his staff were inundated with complaints about buses that ran late, changed stops and otherwise frustrated parents.

Browning dismissed explanations that the stumbles were "no different than last year" as poor excuses, and pledged better. He assigned Ray Gadd and Ray Bonti, two top deputies, to investigate operating problems within the transportation department and recommend changes.

Meetings with parents and employees revealed several areas where the district could fix procedures to handle issues that Gadd deemed predictable.

One of the first changes came in the area of route planning.

In the past, the district would alter bus routes until the first day of school. Bonti has said as many as 4,000 last-minute changes were made in previous years, giving drivers little chance to learn the roads and causing parents angst as they took their children to stops that no longer existed.

It shouldn't happen anymore.

For the coming school year, the district will get bus route information to families by the end of classes June 3, and freeze the routes three weeks later.

"If your child does not have bus transportation arranged prior to the June 27 deadline, you will have to either choose the closest existing stop or you will have to provide your child's transportation to and from school for the first 10 days," transportation director Gary Sawyer wrote in a letter that will go home to parents on Monday.

He encouraged parents to have all address information, including moves, to the district as soon as possible.

"Our goal is to provide your child with the best and safest transportation service possible. Accurate information in our database will help avoid delays at the start of the new school year," he wrote.

Other initiatives also are in the works.

Several district employees have been trained on a new computer system that will track buses as they arrive and depart schools, and students as they climb on and off buses. That information will be collected at schools and sent to the district office, where a group of employees will work a phone bank dedicated to busing questions.

The call center, similar to one in Hillsborough County, comes in response to parent criticisms that they could not get information about their children as they arrived home from school an hour or more later than scheduled.

Browning "saw what happened last year," Cobbe said. "He doesn't want it to happen again."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected]

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