More changes to bus schedules

Published 9:53 pm Friday, October 11, 2013

For the second time since introducing a staggered schedule last month, the School Board has altered start and finish times at certain schools to fix transportation issues that won’t go away.

After the district’s chief of operations, Kevin Alston, updated the board at its Thursday meeting on what he described as the crux of the problem — too few bus drivers — members approved a plan to start and end Driver, Florence Bowser, Hillpoint, Mack Benn Jr. and Nansemond Parkway elementary schools 15 minutes later.

Officials, who were apologetic for again requiring parents and school staff to rearrange their schedules, say the change is designed to give some buses doing double runs more time to get to the schools.


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According to reports, many students are still unable to get to school anywhere near on time, more than five weeks after issues initially flared on the first day of school.

Whitney said there are “still issues and children are not getting to school on time.”

Vacant runs remain rife, according to Alston, with 24 due to vacant bus driver positions and 13 due to drivers on Family and Medical Leave. At least 14 double runs are occurring daily, he said, and that number can rise, depending on the level of absenteeism.

“That’s every day, right now, due to a lack of bus drivers,” he said.

Drivers need to be hired to fill 11 positions, he said, and six drivers are currently out on Family Medical Leave.

Of 25 substitute drivers on the books, he said, only five drive on a daily basis — the rest do not for a range of reasons, including five who haven’t had their required physical and aren’t returning phone calls.

Alston said there had been more than 200 driver absences for the instructional year as of Wednesday, an average of 7-½ per day.

Among other reasons, the staggered schedule was introduced to trim $350,000 from the transportation budget and forestall the purchase of $500,000 worth of new buses.

“We had no idea we would not be able to staff this proposal,” Alston said.

To the question of why the district can’t find the drivers it needs, Alston said he has driven a school bus before, and it’s “a lot of responsibility for the amount of money I received.”

“You have got to keep your eye on the road, but then you are criticized for not keeping your eyes on the back of the bus. People are able to find employment elsewhere that’s less stressful than driving a bus.”

District officials plan to meet with the Suffolk City School Bus Drivers Association on possible incentives to lure more drivers.

District Superintendent Deran Whitney said the new times for the elementary schools would take effect Oct. 28.

Previously, the School Board members voted to start and end classes at Nansemond River High School 15 minutes earlier, with the idea of alleviating issues facing elementary schools in the city’s northern end.