The first day of classes for most Wake County students is still more than a month away, but the school district is trying to get as many new students registered as possible by Monday to complete bus routes for the upcoming school year.
Wake, which has been dogged in recent years by bus service problems, has overhauled the way routes are developed by asking new bus riders to request service at least a month before classes start. The deadline for traditional-calendar schools is Monday.
Wake has warned that families who miss the deadline risk having no bus assignment for as long as a month.
“A delay in enrollment could result in a delay in bus transportation being provided for new students on the first day of school,” Wake warns on the district’s website.
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But school officials say that they won’t turn away riders who miss the deadline. Students who miss Monday’s deadline will be given temporary bus passes while their applications for bus service are processed, according to Lisa Luten, a Wake schools’ spokeswoman.
“This is not about declining service to students,” Luten said. “This is about trying to develop efficient bus routes.”
It’s the latest step by the state’s largest school district to avoid a repeat of the problems that marred the start of the 2012-13 school year, when thousands of students experiencing problems such as buses arriving late or not at all.
The problems led to a reorganization of the transportation department that took the development of routes away from the 16 regional transportation offices. Now a new team located in the central transportation office develops routes for the 932 buses that transport 76,000 students a day.
One of the changes made in preparation for the 2014-15 school year was to lock in bus routes a month before the first day of classes. Wake is assuming previous bus riders will continue to ride, with new riders being asked to request service.
The early deadline is supposed to improve bus service by giving planners accurate ridership totals. It’s also supposed to give drivers more time to practice their routes before classes begin.
It’s an approach that Wake says is already being used by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.
The change in Wake meant deadlines of as early as June 6 for year-round students and June 25 for modified-calendar students. Luten said that most of the new year-round students who had missed the June 6 deadline were assigned a bus before the first day of school.
But the big test will come Aug. 25 on the first day for traditional-calendar schools, which most of Wake’s 153,300 students attend.
Last school year, 2,379 students registered for traditional-calendar schools during the month before classes started. Wake has tried to reduce that number for this upcoming school year by getting students to register early.
Luten said the district reached out to churches and community groups to encourage early registration in areas where they thought families might register late.
Families have been registering this week both at the schools and at the school district’s headquarters in Cary. One of those parents was Shanda Cooley of Raleigh, who was registering her 5-year-old son Zynique to attend Weatherstone Elementary School in Cary.
“He’s going to kindergarten,” Cooley said. “He’s got to get ready to go to school.”