After a rocky start, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools had made hundreds of route changes to get its school buses running on time.
“Many of our buses were running very late, both to and from school,” Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese acknowledged in a Sept. 28 letter to parents.
“We are down to just a few routes that are arriving at or just before the start of school, and we still have some afternoon bus routes that are longer than preferred,” he wrote.
The district will make more adjustments as needed, he said.
Toward that goal, CHCCS has hired routing specialists Wanda Jenkins and Jacqueline Redfern-Stitt from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Jenkins is already in the job, and Redfern-Stitt starts Monday.
Both are certified in Transportation Information Management Systems and can make changes in the maps database.
“Since we share the same database with Orange County Schools, we’re also going to be able to assist them as well,” LoFrese added.
CHCCS has responded to a barrage of emails, social media posts and phone calls from parents that required a team answering calls in shifts for a while.
One pair of working parents, Carrie Alter and Matt McMichaels, were having a problem with bus service for their fourth grader, who attends Frank Porter Graham Elementary School. Alter complained in a mid-September email to Director of Transportation Bradley Johnson that the bus was either 20 minutes late, or not showing up at all. And there was no service available for a ride home. The child’s grandmother had to take care of that.
“They finally gave him a bus ride home,” Alter said. “But they didn’t change anything about his morning time.” She was referring to his 6:35 a.m. pickup for his school’s start time at 7:50. That’s too long to wait, she said.
Service for their McDougle Middle School student started off rocky, too. McMichaels said the bus ran as much as two hours late. He called the whole experience “a three-week saga.”
We have made hundreds of route changes since school opened to improve timeliness and reduce total student travel time.
Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent
At a school board meeting in early September, Interim Superintendent Jim Causby attributed some of the mapping and routing problems to the absence of lead driver Hope Jones, who remains on leave due to a recent injury. Her knowledge of local streets, he said, was vital to the transportation department.
Some parents, such as Alter and McMichael, expressed alarm at the notion that the absence of one employee could have created such problems. But LoFrese said that other turnover in the transportation office also resulted in a loss of readily accessible local knowledge.
Johnson, for example, just took the director job this past spring. Loss of a predecessor’s street expertise can make a difference when dealing with, for example, the street numbering system along N.C. 54.
That particular quirk ended up causing concern for Nikki Roberson, who complained on Facebook that her second grader at McDougle Elementary was getting dropped off in the afternoon near a city bus stop on N.C. 54, rather than the morning stop within the Crest Apartments property.
“They get picked up in the morning in the right spot,” said Roberson. “It’s just in the afternoons, they’re out by the highway. That just started this year.”
McMichaels said his family experienced a similar situation with an afternoon drop-off. LoFrese attributed the problem to an even-odd numbering system that gets unexpectedly switched between the north and south sides of the street along the way, which confuses some newer drivers.
Three new drivers were hired this year at CHCCS, where the starting pay for that job is $13.94 an hour. LoFrese said turnover didn’t cause too many of the problems this year, although he admitted there’s a “permanent job posting” for that job.
“It’s a tough position to hire for; there’s a lot of down time between morning and afternoon,” he said. “You’re hiring someone who might work between 25 and 30 hours a week. And they need to start at 6 in the morning, and they finish up their morning shift at 8:45. And then they’re back to work at 2 o’clock, and finish up around 5.”