IRSD aims for efficiency in new bus, school schedules

Date Published: 
July 25, 2014

Those big yellow buses are getting a slight shake-up this fall. The Indian River School District has planned new start times for each school. Buildings will split into a “First Start” or “Second Start” schedule, nearly one hour apart, to improve transportation.

The school day for First Start schools will be 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Buses will arrive at those schools between 7:25 and 7:30 a.m. and depart between 2:35 and 2:38 p.m. First Start schools are Sussex Central High School, Indian River High School, Georgetown Middle School, Millsboro Middle School, Selbyville Middle School, Phillip C. Showell Elementary, North Georgetown Elementary and East Millsboro Elementary.

The school day for Second Start schools will be 8:35 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. Buses will arrive between 8:15 and 8:20 a.m. and depart between 3:25 and 3:28 p.m. Second Start schools are Georgetown Elementary, the kindergarten center at Georgetown Elementary, Lord Baltimore Elementary, Long Neck Elementary and John M. Clayton Elementary.

All district schools will have a standard school day of six hours and 45 minutes.

Special schools have other schedules: Howard T. Ennis School, 8 a.m. to 2:50 p.m.; G.W. Carver Academy, 8:25 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; and Southern Delaware School of the Arts, 8 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.

Previously, schools had a variety of start and end times.

“They were kind of all over the place before. A few of them had the same start time — not many. Busses were scattered everywhere,” said Assistant Superintendent Mark Steele.

But as the student population has ramped upward, the IRSD has been pressed for space and funds.

Officials said full-day kindergarten really strained the capacity of all elementary-school buses this year. Students who were previously shuttled on half-day buses have squeezed onto the regular morning and afternoon lines.

Of how many school children last year, 8,275 rode the bus, including 168 to special schools. “Roughly 1,600 children are transported in other fashions or walk to school,” wrote Patrick Miller, IRSD chief financial officer.

The IRSD had 132 regular bus contracts, plus 16 special ones for H.T. Ennis.

The State of Delaware pays 90 percent of school transportation costs. (Until about six years ago, the State paid 100 percent.) Even a 10 percent local share is pricey. In 2013-2014, the district paid $741,000 for transportation. The State paid $6.67 million.

But if the State keeps paying the majority of a $7.41 million bill, it wants schools to plan wisely. For IRSD, that meant using the Trapeze computer program, which can write a transportation plan in an effort to create the simplest, most cost-effective routes.

In addition, staggering the starting times lets bus drivers do two routes each day, which is more efficient. Rather than stuffing a bus with children in ways designed to fit the financial budget, the same number of buses have time for multiple trips.

“It’s not really that we have more [buses]. We’re extremely streamlined and organized now,” Steele said.

That’s tremendously important when the district has already registered 150 more kindergarteners for the 2014-2015 school year than last September. Steele estimated totals of 225 to 300 more kindergarteners than last school year.

The new transportation system should reduce the number of elementary-school students on a single bus to about 50 or 55. The number of secondary-school students on a bus will drop to about 38 or 44. In addition, early bus drop-offs at Indian River High School will be discontinued, and students from Selbyville Middle School and Phillip C. Showell Elementary School will no longer share buses.

Afterschool activities played a large part in the scheduling. Middle and high schools end early, so students miss less class time for athletics (like most other secondary schools). Plus, Steele said some parents wanted older children to get home early to babysit their elementary-age siblings after school.

Steele thanked Tyler Bryan, the systems analyst who built the bus schedules.

“He’s just phenomenal. He really got a handle on the software program Trapeze,” Steele said.

Approved by the IRSD Board of Education on June 16, the tiered system may help IRSD prepare for future costs.

“[The State] may turn around and tell the district, ‘You may have to pick up 20 percent,’” Steele noted.

The new schedules will begin on Sept. 2 for the 2014-2015 school year.