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School district explores transportation audit

By Staff | Jan 26, 2010

Lee Schools Superintendent James Browder discussed the details of a transportation audit that was announced during the board’s retreat last year.
Transportation has grown into a major issue in 2010 with some in the district expressing their concern over a department that was budgeted for $48 million this year and parents complaining about long bus rides for their children.
After discussing whether to hire a national company for $75,000 to $100,000 or the Florida Association of District Superintendents for a lesser amount to conduct the transportation audits. Browder said auditors could begin within 30 days and it would be finished by four to six weeks.
He said that even though FADS would be less expensive, the organization didn’t have the capacity to finish the audit as quickly as a national company.
The board gave consensus for Browder to collect more information on a national company and come back with exact figures at the next board meeting in February.
Either choice would look be a process audit of the district’s transportation department – including routes, dispatches, time utilization and the student database – and not an audit of expenditures in the budget.
“Please understand, inside of this look into transportation, they will give us some options, but everything we do is about cause and effect,” said Browder.
Lee County operates under a school choice program where students choose a school in their own sub-zone, an adjacent sub-zone or at a specialized school in another zone.
Some parents have abdicated for a “neighborhood schools” model to eliminate long rides, yet the district contends that only a small population of students have these rides, and in a majority of those cases the students chose the school farthest away.
Board Member Robert Chilmonik said the district should equalize all programs in all schools rather than continuing with specialized schools in different parts of the county. He also wants to look at changing the choice program.
“When you look at school choice I disagree that parents have a total choice of schools,” said Chilmonik, pointing out that the best performing school in Sanibel isn’t open to all students. “School choice; I think it needs to be a public discussion.”
Vice-Chairman Jane Kuckel suggested that comments from transportation employees accompany the audit so the board gets another perspective on school busing. She added that she didn’t want to make a rash decision to dismantle school choice.
“We could maybe save some money by not busing students to school of their choice, on the other hand, our academics have soared in this arrangement,” said Kuckel.
Kuckel said the way Lee County has developed makes it impossible to return to neighborhood schools. On the other hand, parents have been concerned that children in their community don’t attend the same school from kindergarten to grade 12.
“We don’t have schools in the same neighborhood settings as smaller communities because we have grown,” she said.
Members of the board also said they haven’t been inundated with complaints from parents related to the bus rides and believe the benefits of school choice outweigh the negatives.
“We are constantly looking at new ways to improve the system and how we do that is through your input,” said Board Member Jeanne Dozier, who said the district improved the old boundary system years earlier by splitting the main zones into three sub-zones.
Don Armstrong, a Lee County parent who has organized nearly 100 parents against school choice, said the community wants to learn more about the program.
“A lot of people are curious about this, they want to know what is going on with this audit,” said Armstrong.