Wake parents, if you have children in the public school system and they're going to start later this year, brace yourself. The county is making major changes to its bus routes this year, with fewer routes and fewer buses.
For more than a month, the school district has been saying it's needed at least 50 more drivers before the start of the traditional school year. Today, the school transportation department said it doesn't need 50 more drivers because it has decided to put about 50 fewer buses on the road.
Three years ago, the Wake County Public School System changed how it transported students from home to school and back. It didn't exactly go smoothly.
There were major delays, stops missed entirely, and other headaches that lasted weeks into the school year. The district was making a push for efficiency and it still is.
"We've been working over the past three years to make routes more efficient and we've been able to reduce route numbers over the last three years," said district spokesperson Bill Poston. "We're looking to see if we can get down to around 22,000 routes this year." Poston said the district ran about 25,000 last year.
The district is shrinking the number of routes by about 3,000, even as about 2,000 more students are entering the system and six new schools are coming online this year.
"Even though we've had more students riding the bus, we've been able to make the routes more efficient, getting more students per bus and still getting them to school on time," Poston said.
But some parents have already seen the downside of fewer routes. Here's one at a year-round school complaining on a neighborhood Internet chat site about a "major change" in a bus route, turning a possible 3-5 minute ride into a 45-minute haul each way.
"What we're trying to do is build a system that sufficient for the entire county," Poston said, "and sometimes that means somebody might have to ride a little bit longer to get to school. But it still a service that we are offering to get your kid from your door to school."
Fewer routes also mean fewer buses. Last year, there were about 820 school buses on Wake County roads. This year the goal is about 760. And the district says it has about 760 drivers.
But on the school district's website, a recruiting video soliciting drivers is still front and center and a tweet went out over the weekend saying the same. The tweet directs you to an employment page that says the system is still looking for more drivers.
"We are still looking at working to recruit folks because we continue to have turnover with that large of a staff," Poston said. "So we're always looking for new drivers."
Poston said bus drivers got their new routes Monday and are starting to drive them to see if they work as well in real conditions as they do on paper. Parents won't know what they are for another two weeks though; the district wants to wait until the kinks are worked out before posting them. That'll happen about a week before school starts.