Monday, February 25, 2013

Letter: Improvements needed for LWSD busing

Susan Wilkins said...
The Lake Washington School District will spend $7,500,000 this year busing 8,500 K-12 students and 500 special-needs students to school. This is an astounding amount of money to transport relatively few students. Many people assume that providing additional bus transportation to Redmond Middle School will cost taxpayers even more money. This would be true if the school district were already providing highly efficient bus service, but an unofficial audit of the LWSD Transportation Department in 2011 found significant inefficiencies in the department. Although the school district had 85 full-size buses, only 65 were regularly scheduled with the rest being reserved for break-downs, replacements and field trips. And although the schools had staggered start times (high schools - 7:30 AM, junior highs - 8:00 AM, elementary - 8:30 & 9:00 AM) only 7 of the full size buses were efficiently scheduled to provide service to 4 schools each day. Most buses were scheduled for 2 regular routes per day. Buses were frequently assigned to schools on opposite sides of the district so that a lot of time was spent traveling across the district without passengers. Sometimes buses sat idle for 20 minutes between routes. Currently, bus routes are so poorly planned that students have to be at their assigned bus stops an hour before school starts and then ride bizarrely long routes on their way to school. Many parents give up on bus transportation and simply drive their children to school. (Note: these students live too far to walk.) Far too often, buses end up being only partially full. If the district planned the schedule for each bus more efficiently, with each bus carrying a full load of students and servicing 4 schools per day, then capacity would be increased without adding more busses or drivers. More importantly, with more students riding buses, the school district would receive significantly more than the $4,000,000 that it receives from the state in transportation reimbursement funds annually.

The LWSD Transportation Department has a bloated bureaucracy with one director and two supervisors earning a combined $240,000 per year. They have an additional 6 support staff who earn another $300,000. With more than $500,000 spent on transportation routing staff, it’s hard to believe how poorly planned so many of the bus routes are. Does anyone in the school district have any formal education in transportation planning? I have asked about this multiple times but the school district will simply say that their supervisors “have years of experience and are highly qualified.” According to Glenn Gorton, program supervisor for student transportation at the OSPI, “The state of Washington does not have any specific qualifications for Transportation Directors” ... “The hiring practices and qualifications for the individual school districts are handled on the local level and the local districts have the latitude to hire as they feel meets their needs.”   
Bus routing and trip planning software is available, but it requires a technology background and specialized training in order to get maximum efficiency. Providing training for the existing staff or hiring a seasoned computer-based transportation planner would save the school district thousands, if not millions of dollars, and many more students would be bused to school each day. 

There is a bright spot for possible transportation improvements on Education Hill. Students can ride Metro buses to school and LWSD will pay for bus passes for eligible students. Metro Bus #221 serves the Education Hill area but the bus route is not well synchronized with school start and end times. (How often do we see the bus traveling up and down 166th Avenue NE nearly empty?) Metro annually takes input and requests for route/schedule changes. I have asked the City of Redmond to work on morning and afternoon route changes that will coincide with school start and end times with the primary focus on helping students utilize Metro buses as an alternate transportation choice for getting to and from RMS and RHS. (This change would not take effect this school year.)

By Susan Wilkins
Education Hill and PTSA member

1 comment:

Paige Norman said...

Excellent article Susan, thanks for all your research.