1% of Leander ISD students could lose bus transportation

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A new, more restrictive scoring system that measures transportation eligibility for students living within 2 miles of campuses will help ease Leander ISD’s bus driver shortage, according to district officials.

However, 413 students—or 1 percent of LISD’s total enrollment—will lose bus transportation next fall due to the new grading system, according to district estimates.

LISD students who live 2 or more miles from campus qualify for bus transportation. Those who live less than 2 miles from their campus must provide their own transportation unless their route to school is graded as hazardous. In those cases, students are eligible for bus transportation. Due to changing hazards, such as building and road construction, LISD annually assesses routes within the 2-mile radius.

The students who will lose transportation in fall 2020—261 secondary students and 152 elementary students—live on routes that the new scoring matrix will no longer deem hazardous, according to LISD officials.

Since October 2018, LISD’s Hazardous Routes Committee has been working to “review and recommend changes to the current hazardous route scoring matrix that is used to score walking routes in LISD,” according to LISD documents. The 15-member group is composed of LISD staff and community volunteers.

At its Oct. 17 meeting, Leander ISD’s board of trustees unanimously approved a new scoring matrix recommended by the committee.

In December, LISD will begin route evaluations for the 2020-21 school year using the new matrix. A month later, officials will contact families of potential changes in bus eligibility, according to LISD documents. Those families will have two weeks to respond, according to LISD. Parents will be informed by the end of March 2020 of transportation eligibility changes.

The district estimates that approximately 769 students within 2 miles of school will lose bus service, while 356 students will gain bus service.

The 413-student reduction in bus service is not as drastic as the first revision to the scoring matrix, said Shaun Cranston, a volunteer on the committee, at the Oct. 17 meeting.

Cranston said the new matrix is more detailed, assessing “more hazards that were not looked at before” while offering “a better definition of what hazards were.” The committee has also pulled from hazardous routes grading systems used by nearby school districts, Cranston said.

Unveiled 13 months ago, the first revision’s scoring system would have ended bus service to 1,200 students within 2 miles without adding any new students, Cranston said. That plan was met with criticism and not implemented, according to LISD.

Cranston said the aim of the committee’s grading was to take out grading ambiguity and make each assessment a binary choice. Officials determined distances through the district’s bus-routing software—not Google Maps, which is accessible to LISD families.

According to LISD, approximately 16,500 general education students live within 2 miles of LISD schools. An additional 5,200 special education students live with the same radius—meaning roughly half of all LISD students live within 2 miles of the school they attend.

Special education students’ transportation eligibility is not affected by the annual hazardous routes assessment, according to LISD officials.

The hazardous routes grading system change comes as the district continues to deal with a bus driver shortage. LISD employs 152 drivers and has 56 open driver positions, according to LISD Director of Transportation Myron Wilson. To compensate, Wilson said all available office and maintenance staff have started driving routes, with some drivers driving either part or all of an extra route.

Still, the district has received criticism on social media for tardy bus service.

Although LISD officials say the new, more restrictive hazardous routes assessment was not instigated to address the district’s current bus driver shortage, both issues came up at the Oct. 17 meeting.

“I believe that this hazardous routes matrix will help because it reduces the amount of students we’re transporting,” LISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing said, adding that using the new hazardous routes matrix and potentially creating different start times for elementary, middle and high schools would help alleviate the driver shortage. “There may be a different solution [to hiring more drivers].”

Trustee Aaron Johnson said the new scoring matrix could also save money on bus purchases.

"I'm interested to know what the effect is on the number of buses required," he said. "We spent a lot of money on new buses, particularly ones with air conditioning."
By Brian Perdue
Brian Perdue is the editor of the Cedar Park-Leander edition of Community Impact Newspaper. A native of Virginia's Appalachian Mountains, he has been a journalist since 1992, living and working in Virginia, Washington D.C., Hawaii's Big Island, Southern California and Florida before moving to Austin in 2019.


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