Dayton Public Schools expects to implement totally new bus routes for its students around the second or third week of October, after transportation “just blew up” to start to the year, according to Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli.
For the five weeks that school has been open, parents have complained that bus service has been spotty or nonexistent, and drivers have said routes are poorly designed and sending them down improper streets.
Tyler James, who was hired as DPS chief of transportation in late July, resigned six weeks later in early September. James said he declined interest in the “chief” job in early July, but ended up taking it on a temporary basis when district officials pleaded that they had no one to fill the role just weeks before school started.
James said he discovered the district was making way too many busing changes at once — outsourcing charter and private school busing, adding busing for high school students, changing school time schedules, fully enforcing a quadrant system and switching routing software — all in their shortest summer ever, since the school year hadn’t ended until June 29.
“I’m not sure Jesus and his 12 apostles (could do the job) right now,” James said last week.
At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, multiple frustrated parents urged the school board to get the situation fixed. Christina Randall said despite meeting the district’s requirements — attending a school in their quadrant and living at least 1.5 miles from that school — her grandson did not get bus service to start the school year.
She said after repeated calls to DPS transportation with no response, she posted in frustration on social media. A DPS bus driver saw the post and fashioned a homemade solution. She knew which bus went down that street and arranged with Randall for that driver to pick up Randall’s grandson on the way.
Some drivers say they’ve been the only ones looking out for families in those situations. But Lolli said those types of seat-of-the-pants adjustments are not the answer (She had Randall give her information to a district staffer at Tuesday night’s meeting).
Lolli said the district is now working on two parallel tracks. DPS continues to work with frustrated families, adding them to existing bus routes for now. In the meantime, five routers under contract from First Student are in the process of building completely new routes that will go into effect in October.
Lolli said data for the old routing software (Versatrans) had never been cleaned up, to the point that DPS might have five different addresses and two different schools listed for a given student when they switched over to Traversa.
James said with new people hired as chief, associate director and routers this summer, there were few people in DPS transportation who had any historical knowledge of how issues had been handled in the past.
He also said roughly 200 new students a day were being registered for school in the final 10 days before classes started, leading to further chaos in the routing process.
Lolli said the new routing project takes time, from importing the correct student data, figuring out bus stops, timing between stops, making sure kids aren’t being asked to cross busy streets, then planning time for drivers to do dry runs in October.
Lolli said those October routes will adhere to this year’s planned rules — students have to live more than 1.5 miles from their school and attend a school within their quadrant to qualify for a bus, with certain exceptions (including districtwide schools like Stivers and Ponitz and certain special education students).
Certain students who were “grandfathered” to receive bus service outside of those rules will continue to be bused only for one more year, Lolli said.