Schools propose transportation fixes

Published 11:04 pm Friday, March 14, 2014

In the wake of persistent problems and a couple of earlier tweaks, Suffolk Public Schools has unveiled two proposals to alter bus schedules from the ill-fated staggered schedule introduced last year.

Presented to the School Board on Thursday by the district’s chief of operations, Kevin Alston, the proposals will be posted on the district’s website, to gather feedback from parents before proceeding with any changes.

The first proposal, Alston said, resembles the original staggered schedule the transportation department developed last year, which, after public meetings and much debate, was altered significantly before adoption by officials in September.

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It would include four separate bell times: middle schools at 7:25 a.m. and 2 p.m.; high schools at 8:25 a.m. and 3 p.m.; Driver, Florence Bowser, Hillpoint, Kilby Shores, Mack Benn Jr. and Northern Shores elementary schools at 9:20 a.m. and 3:35 p.m.; and Booker T. Washington, Creekside, Elephant’s Fork, Nansemond Parkway, Oakland and Southwestern (Pioneer starting in the fall) elementary schools at 9:35 a.m. and 3:50 p.m.

For drivers, Alston said, this proposal would limit them to two or three runs, make it easier to cover their absences, and retain their benefits by keeping hours above 30 a week.

Though the district is currently five short, he said, it could be achieved with the 156 full- and part-time driver positions currently budgeted.

Other benefits? Alston said it would delay new bus purchases another year, extending savings that added up to $700,000 last year, thanks to the staggered schedule. It would also make program changes, such as for high school specialty programs like Project Lead the Way, easier to accommodate, and current schedules for middle schools, high schools and six elementary schools would be “minimally impacted.”

But on the downside, according to Alston, some elementary schools would start and finish later, and moving any one school to a different tier would throw the whole plan out.

The second proposal would mean bigger changes. Middle schools and Turlington Woods would run 7:25 a.m. to 2 p.m.; high schools and Creekside Elementary School would start at 8:25 a.m., with Creekside, at 2:55 p.m., letting out five minutes ahead of the high schools; and the remaining elementary schools would run from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Benefits, Alston said, would include all but one elementary school on the same schedule and minimum impact on high schools, middle schools and Driver, Florence Bowser, Hillpoint, Mack Benn Jr. and Nansemond Parkway elementary schools.

Compared to the fist proposal, Booker T. Washington, Creekside, Elephant’s Fork, Nansemond Parkway, Oakland and Pioneer elementary schools would have earlier start and dismissal times; also, again, drivers would retain their benefits.

But on the downside, the second proposal, Alston said, would be less flexible, require more drivers and require the purchase of two buses to the tune of $210,000.