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School district receives transportation audit

By Staff | Sep 9, 2010

The Lee County School District received its transportation study from the TransPar Group Thursday with suggestions on how to improve the transportation system, along with identifying what the district is doing right.
The board voted to contract with TransPar Group Inc. on Feb. 9 to provide pupil transportation consulting services for $76,000, which had an original completion date for April.
“We wanted an outside independent third party to come in and look at it objectively to see what we are doing right and what changes we can do to make things better,” Director of Communications Joseph Donzelli said.
He said TransPar Group said it would initially have the audit done in two months, but soon figured out that it would take much longer to complete due to the complexity of the district.
The study conducted by TransPar included reviews of safety, operations, customer service, cost control and maintenance. The audit provided various findings:
— The current school bell time structure facilitates long bus ride times.
— An alternative school bell time structure should reduce ride times, but might not substantially reduce costs.
— The number of school choice options within each zone creates transportation complexity, cost and long ride times, but the cost of establishing additional redundant programs to reduce transportation might offset other savings.
— The transportation system has too many buses in its inventory.
The bell time transportation tier provides the district with the ability to work backwards from when each of the schools has its opening bell time to the first student’s bus stop. The procedure would allow the district to determine what time the bus would have to arrive for the students to get to class on time.
If the district decides to implement the bell time transportation tier, the buses would be required to arrive at the school 25 minutes earlier than the first bell went off in high school and 30 minutes for K8 and elementary schools.
Donzelli said the three tier system will eliminate one of the tiers, along with cutting down the time between bus runs and the hours needed. He said it also provides a fine line for the buses if they are stuck in traffic when they start to really shave time off the bell times.
“Any traffic jams in the county, the buses are going to be late,” he said.
Donzelli said it will have to be a community conversation because it is not something the district can do on its own. He said it will be a very in-depth, wide ranging discussion that needs to take place to determine if the district and the community are willing to implement such a system.
“You have to make sure you look at the entire picture,” he said, adding that you have to keep in mind that “if you change this, it will affect that.”
One of the references TransPar group made at the time of the audit that has already been set into motion is the amount of spare buses the district has.
“Today we don’t have as many buses because we started to use other things they suggested to get ready for the school year,” Donzelli said. “We started to look at where we could implement that and started to. We needed to take some of the excess spare buses and put them back on the daily routes.”
The staff will start to digest the information they received from the audit to determine what will happen in the short term and long term if changes are made.
Donzelli said workshops will also be scheduled for the board members to go over the material.
“The audit is in our hands, now it is time for us to move forward and see where we can go from here,” Donzelli said.
He said the district is going to make the changes that are appropriate and will do so in a manner that is in the best interest of the 100-plus schools and 82,000 students.
“Change just to make a change is not smart,” he said. “Change that will improve things is smart.”
There have been 1,000 bus stop modifications since the first day of school in August, he said. The school district has an average of 40,000 bus stop changes every year, due to adding, eliminating, combining and relocating bus stops.
Donzelli said people have to understand that the transportation system never has anything written in stone because there are changes made almost hourly for bus stops.
Some of the positive conclusions the audit reported included:
— School principals perceived the bus service to be very satisfactory.
— The accident rate, which is currently at .56 accidents per 100,000 miles, is exceptional, which is a reflection of a solid training program and dedicated driver staff.
— The maintenance facilities utilization rate is superior.
— The districts transportation cost has been declining since 2007-08.
— The transportation system cost per bus is only 3 percent higher than the Florida average and the cost per student is consistent with choice programs.