Bell time, bus routes report presented to Board

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Five possible scenarios for bell times and bus routes for the 2014-15 school year were presented to the Board of Education at its regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 13.

Transfinder, which does reports for hundreds of districts, was hired last fall and professional services director Dan Roberts spent more than two days meeting with District administrators, principals and transportation services staff in December. Transfinder issued a report in early January.

District officials began reviewing bell times and bus routes a year ago but thought it made more sense to wait a year before considering any changes. Two major reasons for possible changes are the move of fifth-graders to both middle schools starting next school  year and an effort to improve transportation service issues especially at the secondary level, Superintendent Don Johnson said.

The District put no restrictions on what was included in the report, however, officials did request that start times not begin before 7:30 a.m. or end after 4 p.m. Another goal was to keep the length of the school day similar to what each level currently  has, he said.

The report is available on the District website on the Community Announcements page.

The District will also hold two sessions for all stakeholders to give feedback and input on the scenarios:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 15: 6:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center
  • Tuesday, Jan. 21: 6:30 p.m. at Glacier Creek Middle School

Johnson told the Board the consultant said he typically can improve bus route efficiency by 15-30 percent, but he found that wasn't the case with MCPASD.

"He told us we were much more efficient than the majority of districts, which made his job even tougher but is a compliment to a transportation staff,'' Johnson said.

The District asked for multiple scenarios for bell times and bus routes. Scenario 1 would keep the current bell times, while Scenario 2 showed what start and end times would look like if the District didn't want to add any additional buses.

"We didn't have a favorite in mind,'' Johnson said.

The average new bus costs $100,000, while each new bus route costs approximately $40,000 for operational expenses such as gas, tires and drivers, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Tom Wohlleber said.

He also said the District hopes any plan selected will shorten the afternoon bus ride times or wait times at schools for some middle and high school students.

All five scenarios were discussed during the 40-minute presentation to the Board. The Board  heard that Scenario 1 would require 8-14 more buses, while Scenario 3 would likely require three more buses. Scenarios 4 and 5 would require 20 and 30 additional buses, respectively.

Transportation Services manager Steve Rammer also attended the meeting. He pointed out the District currently has 61 buses and runs 44 regular routes and six special education routes. He also said finding enough drivers for afternoon routes has been problematic and adding more of those routes would pose an even greater challenge.

Every scenario would result in 10 more instructional minutes at the elementary level and 11 more instructional minutes at the middle school level, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services George Mavroulis said. The five scenarios would result in 4 fewer instructional minutes at the high school level.

Some of the scenarios have the elementary schools starting before 8 a.m. Mavroulis said he checked with a number of Dane County districts and the range for most of them at the elementary level is a start time between 7:35 and 8:05 a.m. An advantage to starting earlier is that students would have more opportunity to eat breakfast at school before instruction starts.

Wohlleber suggested having families sign a form if their children don't plan to ride the bus during the school year, which might help remove stops and shorten ride times. He also said he has talked with after-school providers and they are willing to lengthen their service, if needed.

Johnson said the feedback at the meetings will be shared with the school board at its meeting on Jan. 27. The Board plans to make a decision no later than Feb. 10.

"We know this will impact people, especially those with day care,'' he said. "We want to give them as much time as possible to make whatever arrangements are necessary.''