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Transportation audit: School start times impact length of bus rides

By Staff | Sep 11, 2010

The School District of Lee County can save money and reduce ride times if it makes changes to its transportation program, according to a report submitted by an outside auditing firm this week.
The $76,000 TransPar Group report, originally due in April, makes suggestions on how to improve the transportation system as well as identifies what the district is doing right, according to reviews of safety, operations, customer service, cost control and maintenance.
The audit provided various findings including two related to school “bell,” or start, times. The current bell time structure facilitates long bus ride times while a new structure would reduce those times, the report states.
The number of School Choice options within each attendance zone also creates transportation complexity and affects costs and long ride times, according to the audit.
Any changes to school times, though, would be subject to a lot of public input, said district spokesperson Joseph Donzelli, who added it is not something the district would do on its own.
He said any such plan would entail a very in-depth, wide ranging discussion to determine if the district and the community are willing to implement these types of changes.
“You have to make sure you look at the entire picture,” he said, adding that one has 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 already has been set into motion is the number of spare buses the district had, which was too many.
“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 begin to evaluate 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 also will 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 its 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.”
It’s also part of the process.
There already 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 the transportation system never has anything written in stone because there are changes made almost hourly for bus stops.