Wake County Schools

Wake school board to discuss bus problems

Posted August 30, 2012 8:35 p.m. EDT
Updated August 30, 2012 10:01 p.m. EDT

— The Wake County Board of Education will discuss problems with back-to-school busing at its meeting next week, members said Thursday.

Complaints have poured into the school district's offices since traditional-calendar schools returned to classes on Monday about buses getting students to school late and not bringing them home for hours after classes have dismissed – and some that never showed up at their assigned stops.

WRAL News talked to a bus driver Wednesday who said the route he was given is difficult to keep on schedule.

“First couple of days are always rough," Spencer Jenkins said. "But I will say this, this is the worst I’ve ever seen it."

Jenkins, who has been driving a bus for Wake County for more than 10 years, said his six-stop route in 2011 ballooned to 20 at the beginning of this school year.

More than 900 Wake County school buses transport 75,000 to 80,000 students per day and make about 25,000 stops. The district took dozens of buses out of service this year to cut costs, maintain efficiency and keep state funding.

Officials say the busing situation is getting better every day, but some school board members said they want to talk about the concerns they have been hearing.

"We have heard from our share," board Vice Chairman Keith Sutton said.

Board member John Tedesco didn't even have to leave his house to field a complaint – his son was on one of the late buses.

"My own wife was saying, 'What are you doing?'" Tedesco said.

Parents of students in year-round schools are skeptical of the district's promises that the situation will improve soon, saying that they have been dealing with late buses for weeks.

"We are concerned about them spending hours on the bus," said Derrick Burr, whose two children still arrive home almost an hour late every day.

Sutton said the combination of thousands of new students, several new schools, a new assignment plan and fewer buses have combined to aggravate the busing problems usually seen at the start of the school year.

"You've got a convergence of factors that I think has probably – clearly – overstressed the system," he said.

The district must keep a level of efficiency to keep millions of dollars in state funding. Tedesco said the efficiency formula is set by comparing different districts across North Carolina, but he said none can compare to Wake County, which is the 16th largest public school system in the country.

"We had to remove some buses from the road (and) put more children on each bus to drive up that efficiency rating," he said. "I think the state formula for the efficiency rating is wrong. It does not serve districts well."

To fix the problem, Sutton said, more buses may need to get back on the road. Four buses have been added already at a cost of about $250,000, and he said another 20 or so could be added without going over budget for the year.

"We are trying to get to the bottom of (the busing problems) and see what happened," he said.