When you’re talking 12,000 students on 143 bus routes over a combined 10,000 miles each day, there’s a lot of room for error. Add in other uncontrollable variables like road construction, weather, and traffic, and getting students where they need to be, and when they need to be there, is a tall order.
But Lakota’s transportation team, powered by contracted service provider Petermann, rose to the challenge this school year. This was a big contributor to the smooth start to school that the district prepares for all summer long.
“Despite the magnitude of challenges that comes with this type of operation in a district our size, bus routes this school year have run mostly on time and with very few operational glitches that might throw off the schedules communicated to parents,” said Lakota’s Chief Operating Officer Chris Passarge.
That’s especially impressive when one considers all the different factors weighing into the final routes that get published to parents and are run daily by drivers. For example:
- Hundreds of address changes that trickle in over the summer, but mostly during the final days leading up to school.
- Staggered start times for the many private schools that the district’s transportation service is required to support in addition to Lakota students.
- Daycare forms that alter the drop-off location and route for hundreds of students.
- Bus maintenance, cleaning and inspections that begin as early as April.
- Students with special needs requiring specialty equipment on board their bus and in some cases, adult aides.
- Large demands on hiring, and an intense training process that can take up to two months to complete.
One major indicator of success during the first few days of school is the level of parent phone calls, or complaints, that come in. Transportation Manager Susan Prewitt noted that she fielded just 35 calls during the first two to three days this year, as compared to 265 last year.
She attributes that kind of success to parent education, solid staff training, and high levels of customer service.
“It really starts with encouraging our families to make plans for their child’s transportation early and then to include us in those plans,” Prewitt said. “From there, it all comes down to our training model. This year, we introduced a dry run day, in which drivers ran their routes just as they would on the first day, only without their students.”
“It’s also about being proactive in responding to the questions and concerns of our parents leading into a new school year,” she continued.
“While Lakota provides more than the minimum state requirements for transportation service, we do everything we can each year to shrink our exclusion zones and accommodate as many students as possible without adding a lot more routes and substantial costs,” Passarge said. “It’s always a balancing act when it comes to managing one of our most costly operational expenses.”