Gilbert Public Schools addressing continuing bus problems

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Late buses continued to plague Gilbert Public Schools in the first days of the school year, but the buses are now running largely on time, Superintendent Shane McCord told the district’s governing board Aug. 20.

McCord told the board during his report that he accepted responsibility for the issues, which had buses running 30 to 60 minutes behind schedule at some sites.

However, the buses are now running on time 94% of the time, McCord said, and the remainder are running fewer than 15 minutes behind schedule.

The district had problems with late buses through much of the 2018-19 school year. The district brought in a consultant, Paul Novak, who made several recommendations on changes, including a new bell schedule for this school year. Novak told the board last spring that the district’s bell schedule was “designed to fail” when it came to providing on-time transportation services.

However, McCord said some of the recommendations Novak made had not been implemented over the summer as expected, causing some of the problems.

Furthermore, buses had more problems exiting some high school sites, like at Gilbert and Highland, because of traffic. That has put the buses behind schedule, McCord said.

High school routes are the first to run each day, followed by elementary schools and then junior highs. Highland and South Valley junior highs suffered many of the problems with late buses.

Paul Potts, the district’s transportation director, resigned Aug. 2, the second day of school, as the extent of the problems became apparent. Novak, who was transportation director for Tempe Elementary School District from 1995-2016, took over on an interim basis, and McCord said Novak has implemented improvements each day that have largely alleviated the problems.

Among the solutions have been the use of overflow buses in areas where the need has exceeded what was anticipated and looking at ways to get the buses out of the high schools in a more timely fashion, McCord said.

Furthermore, McCord credited Novak with being active in communicating with parents about the problems with some staff members working weekends to contact parents who had expressed concerns.

McCord said a bus driver shortage that has affected most districts also contributed to the problems. The district needs about 15 more drivers to be fully staffed, he said.

The district has posted the opening for a transportation director. McCord said it will be challenging to fill the role.

“Having somebody who has working knowledge and expertise in that area, it’s hard—but especially at this time of year,” McCord said.

Strategic operating plan

The governing board also approved the district’s strategic operating plan by a 5-0 vote. The plan, which has been in the works for nearly a year, establishes five strategic priorities for the district, starting with student success.

The other four priorities—employee excellence, safe and supportive schools, community engagement and operational efficiency—are designed to support student success, McCord said.

Each priority has three to five goals, with actions defined to reach those goals. The plan also defines what the anticipated impact on the budget will be over five fiscal years.

McCord said the plan, which will be posted on the district’s website, will be a guiding document for the district in the coming years.

Digital citizenship

The board also adopted an update to Common Sense Media’s digital citizenship curriculum by a 5-0 vote. The nonprofit advocates for safe technology and media for children.

The district has partnered with Common Sense Media in the past, but this year’s K-12 curriculum has expanded tools for classroom use that will make the presentations more robust, district Executive Director of Technology Jon Castelhano told the board at a study session Aug. 6.

At the Aug. 20 meeting, Castelhano presented to the board a short survey the district took of parents about the curriculum.

The results showed more than 70 percent of parents at every level—elementary, junior high and high school—support the new curriculum and its presentation in the district’s schools.

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Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.
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