By Caroline Boras
Students’ bus rides may get shorter under a series of recommendations now before the Loudoun County School Board. The school system could save millions of dollars, too.
The district’s Student Support and Services Committee presented its plan on Tuesday night.
“This is something that is multiple years in the works,” School Board member Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said. “We’ve been looking for something that will increase both efficiency and effectiveness.”
The committee worked with the Division of Transportation Services and consulting firm Edulog Logistics Inc. to create three scenarios to address the concerns with current bus route system. All involve consolidating bus stops, maximizing bus space and adjusting start and dismissal times for the schools that would be affected.
The recommended course of action was called the low impact scenario, which would affect 19 schools—four middle schools and 15 high schools. By consolidating bus stops, the schools’ 394 bus routes could be reduced by as many as 45. These schools would start their days 15 minutes later. The plan could save between $1.5 and $2.9 million annually.
The committee created two other scenarios—medium and high impact—but it did not recommend either plan. Both would impact 57 elementary, 15 middle and 15 high schools—almost every school in the county.
The committee members said they did not include elementary students in their recommended low impact plan because they did not want the young students being picked up at 6:10 a.m., the proposed pickup time for both the medium and high impact plans.
The committee used software to develop the list of potential consolidated bus stops. One example presented to the board was Bankfield Drive, on the way to Woodgrove High School. The proposed route would consolidate three stops along that stretch to just one. Other proposed routes changes targeted the removal three-point turn-arounds to save time.
The committee said the list of bus stops generated by the software are not set in stone. It provided ideas as to what the new routes could look like, but the committee will apply its knowledge of the county’s roads before making any permanent changes.
The School Board discussed the proposal at length following the presentation.
“To do this successfully,” Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) said, “we need to go in not with a hatchet, making broad, sweeping changes, but with a scalpel.”
Debbie Rose (Algonkian) emphasized that reducing the number of bus routes would not put any bus drivers out of work; the school system already has a shortage of bus drivers.
Tom Marshall (Leesburg) said he does not think high school students will have a problem with school starting 15 minutes later.
The discussion turned to the safety of the proposed plans.
Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said maximizing bus capacity could be a challenge to present to parents.
“I don’t want people to think we’re planning for the buses to be overcrowded,” she said. “We’re already hearing complaints.”
The maximum capacity for buses carrying elementary students is 77, and 51 for middle and high school students. The committee reported that the average school bus route has 38 students, and wants to increase that number.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said his concern was with the medium and high impact plans, and the safety of the elementary students walking to and from the consolidated bus stops
Under the school system’s policies, the maximum walking distance for a bus stop is one mile. DeKenipp echoed Morse’s concerns, saying he does not want elementary school students walking half an hour to their bus stops in the winter when it’s dark in the mornings and afternoons.
Beth Huck (At Large) said the safety concerns would resolve themselves as the committee continues its work.
“I look forward to this fall, having it be less stressful on transportation,” she said.
The plan is scheduled to be voted on as an action item at the May 23 School Board meeting.
“There is a little bit of homework to do,” Morse said of the committee’s proposal. “Certainly, when we come back for the action item, we can resolve any outstanding issues.”