Two-tier bus plan discussed

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Southampton County School Board on Monday night learned about multi-tiered scheduling for transporting students to and from schools. The presentation was made by Ricky Blunt, director of transportation for the public school system, With him was Ruth Burch, transportation coordinator.

The idea of bus-tiering is for one bus to serve multiple schools when they’re open and closed at different times or tiers, said Blunt. The opening and closing times should be staggered to enable one bus to handle several routes. The development of additional tiers can result in the need for fewer vehicles to service the same number of students.

Blunt further explained that multi-tiered scheduling assigns one bus to two or more schools for daily transportation. Using the idea, school instructional times are coordinated for each bus to make up to two runs mornings and afternoons. Further, school times are established on two separate levels so as to maximize the efficient use of buses.

The benefits

• Increases the availability of drivers. Presently, there are 88 bus and car drivers, such as for special needs students. There’s an inadequate number of substitute drivers. The plan wouldn’t require the director, mechanics and transportation coordinator to drive.

Blunt also noted that various attempts have been made to attract qualified drivers, “but to no avail.” Some reasons include poor driving record, unable to pass the DMV test, not enough hours and a poor criminal background check.

Further, in previous years when early closings were on different days for elementary and secondary schools, secondary drivers would drive elementary driver’s route, or vice versa, once they finished their initial route.

• Proactively prepares for drivers’ retirement. Nineteen drivers are eligible for retirement, said Blunt. As they retire or resign, there won’t be a need to replace them. Further, the cost for health insurance, taxes and vehicle insurance, etc., would be reduced.

• Reduces the number of buses in fleet. This will reduce the cost of insurance, maintenance, repairs, parts, tires and the demand on the mechanics.

  Reduces the number of daily route buses. With the two-tier system, Blunt anticipates eventually operating about 35 route buses versus the current 48. That doesn’t include special needs transportation (34 cars and six buses).

• Division will save funds while offering more attractive salaries for drivers. Additional daily hours would be offered. The drivers for elementary and secondary schools are paid a minimum of three hours daily. “With the two-tier system we can offer one driver a total of five hours per day for the same two routes,” Blunt said, “thus giving a driver five hours a day and saving the division one hour per day, per driver.” 

• On the secondary level, there were would be supervision, providing secondary goes early); students will arrive home earlier, allowing them to be available to supervise their younger siblings if necessary; employment; and afternoon activities such as club meetings, athletic practices and tutoring would be held earlier.

• On the elementary level, it would minimize the need for after-school daycare. Many parents will be home from work when their children arrive.

The proposed system is not entirely without disadvantages, and Blunt noted only two: Parents who leave home early for work may need before-school care; during “standard time,” some elementary students might arrive home in the dark.

He gave examples of neighboring school division start and end times:

– In Franklin, the elementary school is 8:15 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.; 7:40 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. for middle and high school.

– Isle of Wight elementary schools are at 8:35 a.m. and 3:50 p.m.; 7:05 a.m. and 2:40 p.m., respectively.

– Greenville County: 8:10 a.m. and 3:20 p.m.; 7 a.m. and 2:10/2:25 for high and middle schools, respectively. Suffolk, he added, already has a two-tier system, and other divisions using the multi-tier system include Hampton, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach.

Currently, elementary and secondary schools in Southampton start at 8 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m. Two examples were given for a proposed two-tier system in Southampton County with secondary schools beginning first. Tier 1: 7:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. for secondary; Tier 2: 8:45 a.m., 3:45 p.m. for elementary.

Or elementary schools starting first, Tier 1 at 7:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.; Tier 2, 8:45 a.m., 3:45 p.m. for secondary.

He noted that morning pickup times could be as early as 6:30 a.m., a point that concerned board member Florence Reynolds about elementary students, for example, waiting for the bus in the dark during the standard hours.

Included in the discussion, fellow member Chris Smith proposed information sessions at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Ultimately, the school board has decided to schedule two hearings seeking public input. The first will be on Thursday, May 25, and the second on Wednesday, June 7. Both will begin at 7 p.m. and take place in the Southampton High School auditorium.

Speaking of hearings, the public is also invited to comment on the proposed general operating budget for Fiscal Year 2017-2018 on Monday, May 15, at 7 p.m., also in the high school.