RALEIGH (WTVD) --Officials with the Wake County Public School System are standing by their claim that they have enough bus drivers to meet the growing needs of families in the district, even as questions linger about the number of school buses on the road on Monday and the district's ability to start the year off smoothly.
There will be 60 fewer buses on the road when school starts Monday than there were last year; they'll be running 3,000 fewer stops. But school officials say they plan to maintain or improve their 95 percent on-time rating this year, in part by doubling up routes.
"Doubled up" means the same driver will start and finish one route, then turn around and get another group of kids for the same school. It means some children will be at school longer before the first bell and means earlier pickups, later drop offs, and perhaps longer routes for some students.
Greg Decker, principal at Sanderson High School, warned parents about longer ride times and changes at bus stops in this email. He then sent a second email clarifying why ride times and stop times may be changing.
The district is challenging a report in the Raleigh News and Observer that the reduction in stops, buses, and routes was driven by low pay and challenging working conditions. Spokesman Tim Simmons says they don't have a shortage and set their number of drivers for the year before budget negotiations began.
The school district "knew it could do the routes as needed with 760 (drivers) and so they planned toward that number," said Simmons. "760 was the number they could do if they took the earliest runs and divided them into some of the shared runs."
But therein, as they say, lies the rub. The district can only meet demand by doubling up runs.
"If you had more drivers," Simmons said, "you'd have different options. But we know how many drivers we can attract at that level of pay, so you work with the numbers you know you can attract to maintain the level of service you want."
Wake County parents we talked to who've lived through bus route changes and resource contractions for the past few years took news of the further cuts in stride but were concerned about what it could mean for their families.
"Usually, it changes through the year," said Sarah Clark, a mother in Wake Forest.
Asked if she'd had trouble in the past, Clark replied, "A couple years, yeah, late buses coming through."
"Theirs is kind of different this year," Clark continued, referencing the gaggle of kids behind her. "They have one that comes through and then a totally separate one comes from the other side of town for them (referencing different kids) and that's it. All the same school, all the same neighborhood. It's hard to understand why they make the plans they do."
This year, for Clark's children, pickup is earlier than in years past. It's unclear whether her kids' bus is doubled up, but why matters less to Clark than the actual time itself.
"They're starting high school Monday and they're up at five-thirty, out there by six. And that's really early."
If you have stories of bus troubles, find Jon on Twitter at JonCampABC11 or email the I-Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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