Cary, N.C. — Hundreds of thousands of traditional-calendar students in North Carolina headed out the door Monday for the first day of school, and Wake County Public School System officials said they were pleased overall with a smooth operation.
The school district was marred last year by major transportation problems, and administrators were on standby Monday to tackle any problems in their busing plan, which was overhauled for the 2013-14 school year.
The changes include placing an additional 50 buses and 200 drivers on the road compared with last year. More than 930 buses ran more than 4,600 routes Monday, and each bus was equipped with a GPS device to keep real-time track of routes.
"Overall, we haven’t had that many problems, but we are looking at some trouble areas and what we can do to improve those," said Renee McCoy, a school district spokeswoman.
The school district also set up a website for parents to map routes and get live updates on school bus progress.
More than 75,000 students ride the bus in Wake County, and officials said most buses arrived on schedule Monday morning. A few were late, and some didn't show up at all, parents said.
Sherrie Bolton wound up driving her three children to school after the bus skipped the stop in their Apex neighborhood. Last year, she said, the bus never showed up.
"It's better than last year – at least there was a bus. It just skipped us, so we're almost there," Bolton said. "I'll fill out the form later today and probably try to call see if anybody answers."
School district officials encouraged parents to fill out an online form to report any problems with school buses or provide other feedback. They were already sifting through comments Monday morning to pinpoint trouble spots.
"We’re really looking at the information parents send in," McCoy said. "This is so crucial for us. Based on what the parents are telling us, we know where to center our attention on those problems."
Mike Barnes said the first month of last year was "pretty rough" because parents could never count on bus transportation for their children.
"I guess time will tell to see how smoothly they run (this year)," Barnes said. "I think it’s important to have a smooth running bus system. The parents depend on it to get on work on time themselves."
Susan Scalco took a day off Monday to ensure her children made it to school, and she gave the district a thumbs-up because the bus was only five minutes late.
"They should have mothers plan out these routes," Scalco said. "We know when it’s terrible traffic. We know how to get to A and B the shortest shortcut and pick everyone up at the same time."
McCoy said some buses ran later than usual Monday afternoon as school officials worked to ensure that children were on the right buses.
By Monday evening, the district had received about 2,175 calls from parents. McCoy said those calls included questions, concerns and compliments.
"Compared to last year, that is a vast improvement,” she said. “In different regions of the county, we have had concerns. We are just as concerned as parents are about those areas.”
Monday also marked the opening of the new Rolesville High School. The four-story, $75 million school welcomed ninth- and 10th-graders this year, but it will eventually accommodate more than 2,000 students in grades 9-12.