After nearly two hours of discussion on school transportation and looking at staggering the start and end times for Guthrie Public Schools, the only unanimous decision between school staff and Board of Education members was that there is no perfect scenario regardless of a future decision.
The Monday special school board meeting looked at the ongoing concerns of bus transportation primarily in bus routes and drivers. To help alleviate the issue, school officials are looking to adopt staggering the start and end times between the secondary schools (high school and junior high) and all the elementary sites.
“I do believe that as we grow in this district, this split time is inevitable,” Superintendent Dr. Mike Simpson told the school board members.
The proposed stagger times are 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and 8:35 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. It remained a question if the secondary or elementary schools would begin class first.
“Because of the geography, that 50 minutes may be a reality that we will have to face,” Simpson added.
Surrounding school districts who have gone to stagger times (due to lack of bus drivers) have a mix of who begins classes first. Five of the eight school districts (Stillwater, Mustang, Yukon, Shawnee and Norman) have their elementary schools start with the early times.
“When we talked with transportation and the guy who helps us with our (transportation) software, he thought if we went stagger times, we would have hour or less per ride. That was a big thing to us when we started to look at an hour and half for a kid on the bus,” Assistant Superintendent Doug Ogle said.
The process of proposing the stagger times began earlier this year due to the lack of bus drivers to cover routes. Since February, the district reports they have been down 16 route drivers.
To help with the lack of drivers, three mechanics, route supervisor and Athletic Director Jon Chappell have assisted in filling in. Overtime costs have cost the district nearly $10,000 along with maintenance and repair costs of $49,000 from 2018 to 2019.
By going with neighborhood schools this past school year, the number of routes dropped from 24 to 21 routes. School officials state by going to stagger times, the number of routes would drop from 21 to 15.
Along with bus drivers, school leaders said staggering the times would assist in reducing (up to a hour) the amount of time students ride a bus, eliminating elementary and secondary students on the bus together, reduce overcrowding, save money and reduce traffic in town.
A committee comprised of principals, directors and two parents looked at the issues and agreed the changes would make a positive impact, but also would create some potential issues. The committee came away with five concerns: childcare for GPS staff, secondary athletics, Meridian Technology Center students, loss of staff (because of childcare) and another major change in the district.
Ogle said he was surprised by the projected cost savings of $39,000 if staggering times were enforced.
Currently there are a total of 42 routes (21 in the morning and 21 in the afternoon), with the new proposal it would increase to 60 routes (30 in the morning and 30 in the afternoon). The additional routes would incur an additional fuel expense of $37,514, but a projected cost savings of $51,500 in salaries. In addition, the district believes they can save $25,000 on bus maintenance and repairs. Overall, the projected savings for the year by going to stagger times would be $38,986.
“It was very disappointing to me,” Ogle said on the cost savings. “I thought if we did this we would be able to save money and put that into teachers salary, but it’s really not about money when we are talking about $38,000.”
Board member Travis Sallee says he ready to support the stagger time, but wants to see more information.
“We need to do it for the right reasons to reduce the bus ride times. I do see the value in fewer bus routes, fewer drivers. Mechanics shouldn’t be driving buses they should be taking care of buses. However, if we are going to use the economic cost benefit analysis I really think it should be a little more thorough. It should include cost transportation over time to replace buses. That’s not the driving reason to do it, but we need to make sure we understand what the costs are.”
“I know its hard to find bus drivers, but I feel like we are going to be hiring a lot more staff and possibly teachers if we do go to these stagger times,” board member Gina Davis said. “That’s the feel that I am getting from the community.”
She continued, “the community has gone through a lot of change going to neighborhood schools. They have been very supportive of us with the bond issue. Surely we can find three or more drivers out there somewhere.”
Director of Operations Cody Thompson responded, “this (upcoming year) will be my fourth year here and I have had a full (bus) crew of three days” as he held up three fingers.
No votes were taken and further discussions will continue.