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Committee discuses improvements to shared transportation system

MORRIS – Morris Schools Shared Services Committee met this week to discuss possible improvements to the schools 1-year-old shared transportation system for the 2014-15 academic year.

Those improvements include better communication with parents, adding more time between routes and implementing an earlier registration process.

“When you’re doing year one of anything you encounter things you could have done better,” said Kathy Perry, superintendent of Saratoga School District 60C. “Having been through it for a year, we have an idea of what will help us out.”

At the start of the school year, the new shared busing system faced numerous problems, including late pick up and drop offs, students being taken to wrong stops, students on wrong buses and an incident where a bus load of students were dropped off at a park and resulted in the driver being terminated. A community meeting was held where school administrators were able to address these and other concerns.

Since 2002, Saratoga, Morris Community High School District 101 and Morris Elementary School District 54 have shared special education transportation, which has saved the districts an estimated $4.7 million in the last decade.

The districts entered into a similar agreement for regular education transportation beginning in 2013. The shared busing system is estimated to save the districts an additional $320,000 annually.

“The most significant driving factor to saving money is the doubling of the routes,” Perry said.

Under the new busing system, Shabbona Middle School and Morris High School students are picked up first and then buses go back for White Oak students. The buses are provided by Saratoga School, which leases its own fleet.

But the system has experienced some problems since it went into affect last August.

“As with any new system, we knew there would be obstacles, mistakes and corrections that needed to be made,” said Teri Shaw, superintendent of District 54. “We feel that everyday we got a little better, and now we have a very good system in place.”

The shared services committee agreed parent communication is something they will be improving on. Shaw said they hope to have better information about logistics – routes, bus stops and times – posted on each school’s website so parents know exactly where each stop is located.

They are even considering providing an interactive map showing each bus stop, Shaw said.

The committee also discussed further staggering the school start times to allow bus drivers more time to make their stops. Times were changed for this year with White Oak Elementary School students starting about a half hour later than Shabbona and Morris.

Next school year, Morris High School may begin five minutes earlier and Shabbona may begin five to 10 minutes earlier.

Perry said schools will also begin requiring early registration for busing beginning next year and may even make those who register late wait two weeks for bus service. They hope this will encourage parents to register early so the districts have time to finalize their routes.

“There were a lot of parents that called the week before school started or even a few days after school started and said ‘I need bus service tomorrow,’ ” Perry said.

Despite hiccups in its first year, administrators agreed the new busing system is and will continue to be positive for all districts involved.

“The districts are more hands-on with transportation,” Perry said. “There’s better communication between drivers and administration. That better communication translates down to students being held more accountable for their behavior.”

Shaw said the amount of money the districts are saving is “staggering.”

“By saving money on transportation, we are able to keep more teachers in front of kids,” Shaw said. “That’s our message. We want to keep as many teachers with students as possible.”

By the numbers

$320,000 – Projected annual savings for school districts sharing regular education transportation
$4,700,000 – Estimated savings so far by school districts sharing special education transportation
2013 – The year Morris school districts consolidated their regular education busing systems
2002 – The year Morris school districts consolidated their special education busing systems
2100 – Total number of students in Morris school districts taking buses to school

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