School starts with new schedules

Published 10:38 pm Thursday, August 28, 2014

With classes resuming Tuesday, Suffolk Public Schools is at least 15 bus drivers short, the district’s coordinator of transportation says.

While 156 drivers would make for a fully staffed district, the number currently sits at 141 total drivers, including general and special education, according to Lonnie Reavis.

“We can use at least 15 drivers,” Reavis stated. “To cover the shortage, we have gone back into the routes, reworked the runs, combined others and added additional runs onto existing drivers.”

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All of the district’s seven substitutes that are available to drive each day have already been drafted into service and assigned runs, according to Reavis.

“We hired three new part time drivers this summer,” he added.

Meanwhile, schools will be operating on new schedules, in accordance with changes the School Board approved in April, after two proposed new schedules were released for public scrutiny in mid-March.

Kevin Alston, the district’s chief of operations, described the approved plan in April as pretty close to the original cost-saving plan the transportation departments drafted last year, but which was altered significantly based largely on feedback during public meetings.

The new, staggered schedule has been problematic ever since it was introduced a year ago.

On Sept. 3 last year, four starting bells, instead of the previous two, fueled back-to-school confusion, while the district cited other compounding issues, including mechanical problems with buses, parents blocking bus loops, late enrollments and school zone changes — plus a Transportation Department phone outage.

As the school year progressed, parents complained to the School Board of late buses and schedule conflicts on a regular basis.

The board altered start and finish times at certain schools on a couple of occasions in response to issues, before transportation officials came back with the two proposals to make more comprehensive changes.

Under the new policy, middle schools, plus Turlington Woods, will run from 7:25 a.m. to 2 p.m., and high schools will operate from 8:25 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Florence Bowser, Hillpoint, Kilby Shores, Mack Benn Jr. and Northern Shores elementary schools will run from 9:20 a.m. to 3:35 p.m., and Pioneer, Booker T. Washington, Creekside, Elephant’s Fork, Nansemond Parkway and Oakland elementary schools will operate from 9:35 a.m. until 3:50 p.m.

According to district spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw, parents can drop students off at middle schools from 7 a.m., high schools from 8 a.m., Driver, Florence Bowser, Hillpoint, Kilby Shores, Mack Benn and Northern Shores elementary schools from 8:50 a.m. and Booker T. Washington, Creekside, Elephant’s Fork, Nansemond Parkway, Oakland and Pioneer elementary schools from 9:05 a.m.

Elementary schools will offer limited early drop-off from 8:30 a.m., but parents must notify the school so that principals can assign the appropriate staff.

Bus routes are posted at www.spsk12.net, and the district is also encouraging parents to report concerns or issues using an online form available at the website.

According to Reavis on Thursday, all drivers have picked up their routes and most have completed dry runs.

“A few are doing their runs today and tomorrow and I am very confident that they will have the dry runs completed,” he stated.

“With the changes that have been made, I feel that we are in better shape at this moment than we were at this same time last school year. Where I cannot predict the future, I am looking forward to a great school opening.”