Where your child is picked up, what time and how long they ride their bus to and from school has been in the works for months.
Shortly after parents started registering their students for school, officials started planning the routes that the more than 300 buses in their fleets would start taking this month.
Their job is to make sure that the about 17,500 students who ride the bus, or about 70 percent of the county’s kindergartners through 12th-graders, make it to and from school safely every day.
The start of each school year is one of the most hectic times, as transportation directors map out exactly how to get thousands of students from their homes to their schools in the most efficient way.
Each year, they try to keep the bus stops and routes as consistent as possible, so that families aren’t confused by big changes.
But that isn’t the only factor that goes into planning routes. They also have to figure out how to fit in students who have moved into their school district, hundreds of new kindergartners and students who have moved up to a new school.
The rest of the school year also poses other daily challenges, including making sure buses are inspected and maintained, planning for severe weather and making sure students aren’t fighting or getting out of hand on their buses.
Managing all of those duties means the directors are continually talking to drivers and parents about any short- or long-term changes coming to routes once they’ve been decided, and ensuring students know how to behave, the directors said.
“Communication is very important,” Clark-Pleasant transportation director Ed Tichenor said.
This school year, one of the big issues impacting the buses on the roads is growth.
At each school district, transportation directors need to be in on conversations about how many new students are expected, and are actually enrolling. For example, Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant schools both grew by more than 100 students last school year and by about 50 students this school year.
They need to know early where the new students live, and whether a bus already passing through their neighborhood can pick them up or if another bus needs to be added, Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant transportation directors Rick Pederson and Ed Tichenor said.
On the first day of school, as bus drivers traveled new and familiar routes to pick up students, the directors also were on the road making sure streets were clear and answering any last-minute questions from parents about how to get their children to school.
On Greenwood’s first day, the school district’s transportation office received and answered hundreds of calls from parents who still needed to know what bus their student would ride to school and where they would find it, transportation director Mike Hildebrand said.
Parents could check that information when they registered their child for school, but sometimes parents don’t think about transportation until the night before the first day of school, Hildebrand said. That’s why Hildebrand wants to work with Greenwood’s technology director to create and add a section to the school district’s website where parents can check their children’s bus stop and route information.
“That could lessen the influx, or the high-demand calls coming into the transportation center,” he said.
Next, officials will continue to review and update the routes throughout the school year. When roads close, such as when sections of streets or railroad crossings need to be repaired, buses will be rerouted. When students move in, they’ll adjust routes as they need to ensure that buses aren’t overloaded, and that students aren’t sitting on a bus for an hour or more on their way to school.
“There could be a number of complexities that arise, and you utilize that information for the upcoming school year,” Pederson said.
School districts don’t want students to spend more than between 45 minutes to an hour on a bus at the most, and they also need to ensure that buses aren’t too crowded. Buses with high school students usually can safely take about 60 students, while buses going to elementary schools can take around 80 students, Pederson said.
Drivers have to watch all of those students as well as the road to be sure no one is misbehaving, the directors said. Almost all of the county’s buses also have cameras watching the students and can be checked if a student says they were bullied on the bus or if a fight breaks out.
If additional students, such as ones moving into a school district or changing schools, mean that there will be too many students on a bus or that some students may be on a bus longer than an hour, then the transportation directors will find a way to change the route or add another bus.
For example, Center Grove is expecting more students to move in to the southern and central parts of the school district. Pederson regularly has to review subdivisions, including Harrison Crossing East, Cobblestone and Somerset, to see if new houses have been built, if new families with small children have moved in and whether routes need to be adjusted or added.
And Clark-Pleasant is expecting more students at its intermediate, middle and high schools in the next five to 10 years. As those students arrive and start advancing to the different schools, Tichenor will have to consider how to adjust the routes and whether to add new buses.
Both Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant have between 10 and 25 substitute buses that aren’t used regularly and take the place of buses that run daily when they need maintenance. If a route needs to be added, the districts can use one of the substitute buses and if needed add a substitute driver, the transportation directors said.