Education

August 25, 2014

Wake County's new school bus routes go well on first day of school

Wake County school officials say the morning bus service Monday was "fantastic," but that they encountered "some delays at the end of the school day."

Tens of thousands of Wake County students put the new school bus routing system to the test Monday, as school officials said things went “smoothly,” but some parents complained about poor service.

The opening of traditional-calendar schools in Wake County marked the first major test of changes for this school year that saw bus riders adjusting to fewer routes and fewer stops. School officials said that the “overwhelming majority” of Wake’s 910 buses arrived on time Monday morning and that 99 percent arrived within 15 minutes of the start of classes.

But by Monday afternoon, school officials said Wake encountered typical opening-day challenges that resulted in some delays at the end of the school day.

“Most of the afternoon delays should be resolved this week as drivers and students get used to the new routines, ” Wake said in a statement.

“The first day of bus service went smoothly today for most of the 75,000 Wake County Public School System riders.” the school district also said in the statement.

Historically, school officials have asked parents to be patient during the first few weeks of school as bus routes are adjusted to handle the 75,000 bus riders. For instance, bus drivers took extra time in the morning to do a roll call of their riders and school officials took more time in the afternoon to make sure students got on the right bus.

Wake received complaints from some parents on Monday, including one from Rachel March in North Raleigh.

March said the magnet school express bus taking her son home from Underwood Elementary School in Raleigh’s Five Points area was 80 minutes late getting to his stop. With her son getting a new bus route that she says is longer, March is worried that the problems may not be solved quickly.

“I know the first day and the first week is always a mess, but last year we didn’t have these difficulties in the afternoon,” March said. “I’m hopeful that some of this will be ironed out because they say to be patient the first week. I will be patient for a week.”

Apex resident Lynn Long said that after waiting an hour for the bus Monday morning, she drove her son to Apex Middle School and barely got him there on time.

“They say to be patient,” Long said. “But when it comes to your child not being to school on time for the first day, it’s stressful for him. That’s not the way to start middle school.”

However, Lisa Luten, a Wake schools’ spokeswoman, said the district checked the GPS information from Long’s bus and saw that it had arrived within two minutes of the scheduled time for the stop. She said they’re reaching out to Long to see if she went to the right location for the new bus stop her son got this year.

Wake dropped 116 bus routes and 4,000 stops for the new school year. School officials said eliminating 16 percent of last year’s stops should speed up bus rides because buses won’t have to make as many stops.

But the changes mean longer walks to the bus stop for some students. Wake allows bus stops to be as far as three-tenths of a mile from an elementary school child’s home and a half-mile for middle school and high school students.

School officials say the changes will allow North Carolina’s largest school district to handle the influx of new riders without putting more buses on the road.

At the same time, Wake is trying to avoid a repeat of the events of 2012, when 52 buses were taken off the road to save money and thousands of students waited for late buses or buses that didn’t arrive at all. The problems led to the reorganization of the transportation department, including hiring a new staff to develop bus routes.

Once students got to school, school officials said, things went smoothly there, too. Monday marked the first day at the new campus for Richland Creek Elementary School in Wake Forest. For the past two years, students were in modular units at the DuBois Center.

Despite a higher rate of teacher turnover this year, school officials said they have about the same number of vacancies for the start of classes. Wake has 49 vacancies out of 10,000 teaching positions.

Doug Thilman, Wake’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said the district hired 1,200 teachers over the summer compared to 1,000 in prior years. He said teacher resignations were up 200 people from the prior year.

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