Back to the future at SPS

Published 8:26 pm Monday, April 14, 2014

If Suffolk Public Schools officials hope a new bus schedule endorsed by the board last week will fix transportation problems, it would appear they are hoping in vain.

One of two proposals transportation planners developed in an attempt to get children to school on time, home at a reasonable hour and — more to the point — put an end to widespread complaints, the new schedule, as the district’s chief of operations Kevin Alston observes, isn’t all that new.

Being almost identical to the original, four-tier staggered schedule proposed last year in an effort to save money, cut down on double-runs and alleviate congestion at a couple of traffic choke points — the new schedule is a case of back to future.


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The problem here is that the original plan, the one that was almost identical to this new schedule, was significantly altered after parents complained.

The shred of hope for officials is that those complaints, which were based on a concept, not any implementation or anything concrete, and mostly centered upon child care and impacts on work and family schedules, will prove unfounded.

When Alston last week explained to the School Board the two options that would fix problems that have plagued the district since the start of this school year, he had the air of a weary general. During the past 7-½ months, he no doubt has patiently explained what the district is up against to many a parent who feels he or she has been wronged.

Though he has been the target of much of the criticism, Alston and his department staff orchestrated the staggered schedule at the behest of a powerful master: the district’s funding woes — the same faceless force that has made teachers go years without raises, increased classroom sizes, cut hall monitors and more.

By doing more with less — words that strike fear into the heart of not only teachers but most of the workforce since 2008 — the staggered schedule saved $700,000 last year, Alston told the board’s March meeting.

If the school district were not so cash-starved — an assessment some readers disagree with — it could buy the buses and extra drivers required to get kids to school and back.

As it stands, the issues aren’t going to magically disappear, because the straightforward fact is that you can’t do more with less when it comes to transportation and many other things. Sometimes, less is less.