Flagler County Public Schools Director of Transportation Bruce Preece presented a leaner bus schedule to the School Board Aug. 16, including combined grade levels and stricter walking polices for students. Since then, the new system has received a lot of heat from parents, many of whom have children who now walk to school while their neighbors, sometimes just a few homes away, can ride.
But things are getting better, Preece said.
At the beginning of the year, his office averaged 350 to 450 complaint calls a week. Now, they’re down to about 89, which is around normal for his department.
“We’re doing business completely different than we did last year,” Preece said. “We knew that these changes were going to create some problems.”
With about 10,000 students transported daily, Preece lowered the number of district bus routes this year from 96 to 90, saving about 700 miles of road time a day.
He also instituted stricter walking rules. The distances which decide whether or not a student is eligible for a ride didn’t change (more than two miles for middle- and high-school students; one mile for elementary), but now they’re being enforced, to the tenth of a mile, and Preece isn’t budging.
“If I give (a ride) to one, I have to give it to everybody,” he said. “Determining who can and who can’t ride is a difficult thing to do.”
He added that if the miles requirement were to be trimmed down even from just two miles to 1.8, it would cost approximately $50,000.
Still, board member Colleen Conklin rallied for flexibility.
“I just don’t think you can be paralyzed by the policy that’s set,” she said. “We trust your judgment (to make exceptions, when there’s space) … It’s a common-sense issue.”
But almost every bus on the roster is currently full, Preece said, and although not all get 100% ridership, overbooking could occur. He also worried about the extra administrative work it would require to routinely check in with bus drivers and make exceptions.
As is, he says his staff is “at maximum capacity” fielding incoming calls.
“I myself commend you for sticking with the two-mile rule,” board Chairwoman Sue Dickinson said, citing the possible implications of exceptions: Lines could blur, parents might feel unfairly treated or on the wrong end of preferential treatment.
Preece asked the board to wait until at least the holidays before making any changes to bus policy or routes. About 90% of the parents he speaks to may not be happy, necessarily, but they are receptive, and accepting, of what his department is trying to accomplish financially.
Fischer plugs standardized threads
With just a few minutes left in the Oct. 4 workshop, School Board member John Fischer introduced his plan to incorporate mandatory uniforms into Flagler County schools.
“I have been an advocate of uniforms,” he said, holding up a folder packed with research he has compiled from nearby counties. “I’m looking for the support of the board to proceed.”
He has spoken with Volusia and Oceola counties, he said, as well as several other agencies, in order to review behavior and performance figures linked to school uniform policies. But further research and surveys are still to come.
“The image means so much,” he added, “and the uniform is an image … Dress for success.”
The board will workshop uniforms further Oct. 18.