APS – A New Year – Time for Another Bus Scheduling Disaster? Changes Raise Significant Financial Questions

The school bus routes for the upcoming year were published yesterday (see link) for the elementary, middle and high schools. As in the past three years, there appears to be a problem this year as well.

Based on the current schedules, the elementary school kids will be dropped off at 7:10 a.m. – a full 50 minutes in advance of the starting bell. During this past year, buses were scheduled to reach the school at approximately 7:30 a.m. – 30 minutes before the starting bell.

Some parents have indicated that, in addition to the 20 minutes earlier arrival time, the initial bus pick-up times have been pushed back an additional 15 minutes – in effect, making the initial pick-up time 35 minutes earlier than this past year.

The elementary bus schedules show that the first pick-up is generally between 6:25 a.m. and 6:35 am. However, there are certain bus routes in which the initial pick up time is as early as 5:54 or 6:09 a.m.

The standard start time for teachers at elementary schools is at 7:30 a.m. – which is consistent with the bus arrival times this past year. At this point, it is unclear who will be present at the school when the kids arrive 20 minutes earlier. Some have suggested that teachers will volunteer to come in early – but, there does not appear to be a concrete plan in place seven days before the school year begins.

Why is there a significant change from last year in the time between arrival and the start of class? It should not be a financial issue as the proposed budget savings from changing the elementary school starting bell schedule was not adopted by the BOE (see background information below). Additionally, both the middle and high school starting bell schedules were changed to 15 minutes later than this past year.

Middle school bus routes are generally scheduled to arrive at 8:40 am – 25 minutes prior to the start of class. High school bus routes are generally scheduled arrive at 8:10 am – 20 minutes prior to classes starting.

Based on the full background below, the changes to the elementary bus schedules also raise some troubling financial, budgetary and operational questions, as follows:

  1. The BOE rejected the 15 minute change from the 8:00 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. for the opening bell in the elementary schools and accepted the administrations cost estimate of $2 million as a result of not making the change. However, the new arrival time is 20 minutes earlier than last year. Did Operations simply implement the new bus schedule unilaterally?
  2. It was clear towards the end of the budget process that Superintendent Davis was both frustrated and annoyed with the Budget Commission. Was he involved in approving a decision that simply went around the BOE?
  3. After the discussion on the bell schedule changes, the agreed upon savings for FY14 was $1 million. The FY14 approved budget only reflects a $300 thousand decrease in cost over FY13. Where is the other $700 thousand in savings?
  4. If the new bus schedule implements a cost savings measure that was rejected by the BOE, should the FY14 budget for transportation be reduced by $2 million as the administration initially proposed?

Background – Subsequent to the redistricting and closure of schools in 2012, there were significant problems in the bus schedules established for the FY12-13 school year. To remedy the problems, additional buses were added to the fleet, bringing the total buses available to 400+ (see Talk-Up APS August 16 & August 27, 2012. At the same time, additional crossing guards were hired to improve safety. At the time, it was estimated that the changes would cost $2.8 million.

With the addition of the $2.8 million, the initial $16 million budget for FY13 for transportation services increased to $18.8 million. However, the current estimate for actual costs in FY13 is approximately $17.9 million (subject to additional year-end adjustments).

This past January, as reported in the AJC by Jeffry Scott,

Atlanta Public Schools is considering changing bus schedules and school hours next year, APS director of Transportation John Lyles told a group this week at a community meeting. He said changes are necessary in the schedules so the system can adapt more readily to unpredictable Atlanta traffic. Without changes, he said the district would have to buy about 50 new buses at a cost of about $100,000 each. 

In the first budget commission meeting held in May, the administration again proposed the starting bell schedule changes and indicated that the savings would be approximately $3 million. However, the budget commission members resisted this change for the elementary schools as they considered a school start time of 7:45 too early. However, the administration came back with a savings of $1 million for the change in starting times for both the middle and high schools. The change in the level of savings indicates that the cost of not changing the bell schedule at the elementary schools was approximately $2 million.

Now to the FY14 budget for transportation services. After all the discussion noted above on the bell schedule changes, the administration offered a budget for FY14 of $17.6 million. Here is the interesting part – the FY14 budget is only $300 thousand less than actually incurred in FY13. The actual cost for FY13 should have been easily estimated back in May or June of his year, so the $1 million in savings adopted by the BOE should have been included.  However, only $300 thousand shows up. Where is the other $700 thousand of savings for changes in the bell schedule for middle and high schools?

In addition, the new elementary bus schedule results in students arriving at school 20 minutes earlier than last year. Effectively, the bus schedule implements the cost savings measures that would have resulted from a change in the elementary starting school bell schedule. Based on the changes, should the FY14 budget be amended to include the additional $2 million in savings that was initially proposed and rejected by the BOE, but which now appears to have been implemented by APS Operations?

All of this is troubling indeed.

4 Responses to APS – A New Year – Time for Another Bus Scheduling Disaster? Changes Raise Significant Financial Questions

  1. Jenny Nix says:

    Can you find out the details of the routing system they used, how much they paid for it, and if there is support available that transportation is not taking advantage of?

    • Jenny – the bus routing system is from Education Logistics, Inc. At the time the software was purchased in 2009. the company put out a press release that says, (http://www.edulog.com/news/2009-08-20_Atlanta_Public_Schools_GA.pdf)

      Missoula, MT – August 20, 2009 – Education Logistics, Inc. (EDULOG) announced today that it
      has contracted with the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) for the purchase of EDULOG’s pupil
      transportation routing and scheduling software, part of EDULOG’s broad range of transportation
      management solutions for the K-12 school market. The agreement includes a software license,
      related professional services, and ongoing support.

      It notes that “ongoing support” was purchased by APS – however, my sense is that “support” after the initial training phase simply refers to software updates. Typically, once people are trained in the software when it is installed, the subsequent support (other than for software bugs) is provided on a contract basis. I have not been able to find any references to the purchase (or price) in the BOE documents, but with the length of time since the original purchase, it may no longer be there. Also, I have not found annual maintenance fees for the software in the Boarddocs, but these could easily be imbedded in summary requests for ongoing software maintenance fees.

      It also appears that EDULOG is a substantial supplier of this type of software to schools around the country.

  2. Jenny Nix says:

    I spoke to Edulog today and they said that all APS has to do is call support, at no cost at 1-406-728-0893 x 3146 and support will walk them through any issues they are having. One of the issues I discussed with them is having routes year after year where streets are closed, dead ends or not able to be navigated by a bus. Edulog says they can walk APS through marking these streets permanently so the problem will not be repeated. I am not sure the software is being utilized like it should be.

  3. stanjester says:

    Vendor payments (and employee earned income) can be found at http://www.open.georgia.gov/

    In FY 2010 Atlanta Independent School System paid $60,950 to Education Logistics. 23 other counties in Georgia used them that year. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that APS paid more than just about everyone else.

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