APS Statement on Elementary School Bus Route Time Changes Does Not Make Sense

[Updated – see additional parent comments at Maureen Downey’s Get Schooled blog]

Last night, Mark Niesse of the AJC published an article (behind pay wall) on the changing bus schedules for elementary school children. As reported here as well (see link), even though the BOE rejected a change in the starting time for elementary schools from 8 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. and the related $2 million budget savings, the bus schedules were changed anyway. The new bus schedules show all elementary school children arriving at 7:10 a.m. – 20 minutes prior to arrival times from last year and 50 minutes in advance of classes starting at 8:00 a.m.

At this point, it is not clear what arrangements have been made to supervise the children arriving 7:10 a.m. as teachers are not scheduled to arrive at the schools until 7:30 a.m.

In the AJC article, the APS administration responded with the following statement,

“This schedule is expected to increase breakfast participation, shorten ride times for special-needs students and improve student safety,” according to a statement by Atlanta Public Schools on Wednesday. “In order to accomplish these goals without changing the bus schedules, the district would have been required to add 50 buses and drivers.” 

For starters, the objectives to “increase breakfast participation and shorten ride times for special needs students” were never mentioned in the discussions regarding bell schedule changes or the transportation budget for FY14. The only arguments presented by the administration for changing the bell schedule were cost savings measures. This is further documented in the article by Jeffry Scott published in the AJC as the proposed bell schedule changes were rolled out by the administration in January,

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.

Mr. Lyles addresses cost as a reason for making the changes, but the article does not provide any of the other reasons which are now being offered by the administration.

The APS statement also seems to ignore statements it made last year when it had to address significant problems with bus schedules after the redistricting and closure of a number of schools. At that time, APS said,

…the district is adding 49 buses to the fleet, along with 850 additional bus stops to existing routes…. Costs associated with implementing these transportation changes are estimated at $2.8 million.

With the reactivation of the 49 buses in the fleet last year, the bus scheduling issues appeared to have been resolved by the end of August 2012.

What changed between August 2012 and January 2013 and now?

Enrollment has stayed essentially the same. The number of schools has not changed. The bus fleet of 400+ has not gone down (see video at link). The scheduled start time for elementary schools has not changed. The start time for middle and high schools was pushed 15 minutes later to accommodate more efficient use of the busses. Except for the increase in bus scheduling flexibility due to the changes in middle and high school elementary start times, nothing has changed as compared to this past year.

Then again, there may be some other changes at work here.

Superintendent Davis is a “lame duck” and visibly annoyed with the BOE for not adopting some of his proposed recommendation. Did he just approve an end run on the BOE by simply adjusting the bus schedule to achieve a budget savings that the BOE rejected?

The FY14 budget detail for transportation services was not presented to the public until after the discussion on the bell schedule changes. And when presented, the FY14 budget is consistent with the actual cost of transportation services in FY13 and it is not clear that it includes the savings from the bell schedule changes to the middle and high schools. Did the FY14 budget also not include additional costs resulting from the BOE not accepting the changes to the elementary schools start times?

Something just does not seem right with this whole process.

The budget numbers don’t seem be consistent with the discussions and decisions made; the decision by the administration to change the elementary school bus arrival time appears to be an end run on the BOE’s decision not to change the bell schedule; and there does not seem to be a plan in place to supervise the elementary school children that will arrive 20 minutes before the teachers are scheduled to arrive.

The administration need to provide better answers and far more insight into its decision making process on this subject. The BOE and the parents deserve better answers.

[Post linked by Tom Tidwell for APS Board of Education Facebook page – Thanks for the link!]

One Response to APS Statement on Elementary School Bus Route Time Changes Does Not Make Sense

  1. Jenny Nix says:

    One of the route causes of this is pure inefficiency by the APS Transportation department. We have been working with them on behalf of E. Rivers since the middle of July. The original routes that were given to us made no sense, were not efficient, included dead end streets and blocked off roads and had never been driven by anyone in transportation.

    We have asked multiple times for real time dry runs and have had parents available for each of our neighborhoods to ride with the drivers and help with the routes. While we have received permission to do this, the real time dry runs have now been canceled twice.

    The seemingly very top heavy administration in transportation relies on the drivers to make changes on these routes while they are driving a huge bus through the streets of Atlanta with no air conditioning and a piece of paper that is routing them turn by turn through the streets.

    If we make the routing more efficient, we won’t have to invest in more buses and more drivers. Whatever routing system they are using is not working.Our smallest children are taking the brunt of the inefficiency of APS, it is so frustrating and sad. Errol Davis, you should be ashamed of yourself.

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