LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County school district officials are quick to acknowledge they've done a bad job keeping parents informed of school bus problems as they arise.
"We weren't doing a very good job communicating to our parents, communicating to our principals," Ray Bonti, executive director for operations, told the School Board on Tuesday. "Therefore, we had some lapses in our systems."
Parents didn't know when their children's buses were running behind, for instance. Sometimes they had to scramble as bus routes changed overnight.
And when they called the district, the most common response was a busy signal.
After learning of this chaos in August, superintendent Kurt Browning vowed to improve the model. On Tuesday, his staff presented several changes to the district transportation effort.
In the spring, the district will ask parents to fill out a form saying whether they plan to use the school bus the following year, and if they are satisfied with their current bus stop.
That initiative aims to set up routes earlier than in the past, without as much confusion in the first days of classes.
"Our goal is to go from 4,000 last-minute changes to 10 percent of that, or 400 last-minute changes," Bonti said.
If problems do arise, the next step is to get information to parents more quickly.
That effort will include using new technology to track when buses arrive at schools and leave, with the information going to a call center. That call center will have a single phone number that parents can call for details, and it will operate for the first 10 days of classes.
"We will be able to answer questions for parents that we have not been able to answer in the past," Bonti said.
Law enforcement will help as well, in making sure that parents in car pick-up and drop-off lines do not get in the way of bus lanes. Last fall, some buses ran late because they could not get into or out of their schools.
Because the district stacks its bus routes, with each bus running for high schools, then middle schools, then elementary schools, being late at one can affect all.
Transportation director Gary Sawyer said the new operational model for the first days of school are part of a larger effort to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of his department.
He told the board that the department is recommending new hardware, such as Global Positioning Systems, new software for routing, and reorganized staffing. He said the changes should take place beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
Board members were enthusiastic about the idea of keeping better track of students and buses. They did not take any formal action on the presentation.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.