Local News

Parent: 'Assignment problem' to blame for long school bus rides in Wake County

Posted September 26, 2017 6:13 p.m. EDT
Updated September 26, 2017 7:04 p.m. EDT

Wake County Schools are filling up faster than they can be built, and students are now paying the price for a school system struggling to keep up with the growth.

In the last 10 years, the student population has increased by 25 percent to nearly 160,000 students. In the 2006-2007 school year, Wake County had about 128,000 students.

In turn, some students as young as kindergarten are spending hours on the school bus traveling to schools far from their homes and passing schools already at capacity on the way.

Jodi Duffield says spending time in the Richland Creek Elementary School carpool line is not ideal, but it beats the alternative.

"If I waited for him for the bus, we would miss activities," she said. "Soccer starts, and we would never make it there."

When Duffield's son Daniel takes the bus home, it arrives after 4:30 p.m. He gets on the bus at 7:30 a.m., more than a 9-hour long day.

"That's unacceptable," Duffield said.

School spokesperson Lisa Luten says a bus driver shortage is partially to blame. There are currently 200 fewer bus drivers than were five years ago, even though there are 13,000 more students.

Some buses double up on routes, which make for long commutes, Luten said.

But Duffield said it is not a busing problem.

"It's not a busing problem, it's an assignment problem," she said. "If they assigned the children to a closer school, they wouldn't have to be busing them so much."

Duffield said she wanted her son to attend a traditional calendar school. They were assigned to Richland Creek, which is more than nine miles from their Rolesville home.

There are four traditional calendar schools that are closer to their home, including Rolesville Elementary, which is one mile away.

"Often times they don't go to the closest school. In our community, we are not built that way," Luten said.

She said the school system can't always find land to build in those fastest growing areas of the county.

In Rolesville for example, they expanded the existing elementary school last year, but it is already near capacity with trailers being used as classrooms.

The bus driver shortage is a national problem, according to Wake Schools.

Starting pay for a Wake County bus driver is $13 per hour, and drivers work a split shift. However, drivers are state employees, so after seven years every driver is guaranteed a pension and life insurance for life.