When will JCPS solve bus crowding and delays? Probably not until next school year
Amid ongoing delays and crowding, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio presented the school board with possible solutions to the transportation crisis. But those changes likely won’t be in place until next fall.
Each of the four options Pollio presented would reduce transportation services for the 16,000 students who attend JCPS magnet schools, including schools that offer the “traditional” program.
“I think the community needs to know that the day of all students being transported to all schools is at the end of that road,” Pollio told the Jefferson County Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday.
JCPS is facing a dire bus driver shortage. According to JCPS staff the district is running 568 routes with 578 full time drivers. On any given day somewhere between 44 and 60 drivers call in sick, Pollio said.
Each of the four options Pollio presented would maintain transportation for the 50,000 students who attend their “reside” school — or schools students are guaranteed placement in based on their home address.
Option 1: Magnet hubs
Pollio told the school board the district could eliminate 60 to 70 routes “on the conservative side” by using “hubs” for magnet school students.
It would mean magnet families would be responsible for getting their students to a more centralized “hub,” such as a high school or shopping center. A JCPS bus would take students the rest of the way to school.
Pollio said this option would bring the district down to about 500 routes, which he says may be manageable with the 578 drivers JCPS currently has.
“Hopefully that would put us above water for next year,” he said.
Option 2: Low-income magnet school students only
The second option Pollio presented would be to only provide transportation to magnet students who are eligible for the National School Lunch Program, based on their family’s income.
Pollio said this option would reduce the number of routes to around 475.
“Which would be where we really need to be,” he said.
Option 3: Transport only low-income magnet students through hubs
The third option would free up even more drivers. Only low-income magnet students would get transportation and JCPS would use the “hub” model. That means low-income students could get a bus, if they could make it to a centralized location that would likely not be within walking distance.
Option 4: Eliminate all transportation for magnet students
The “most aggressive” option Pollio presented would be to eliminate transportation for all 16,000 magnet students.
“There are some equity issues we obviously have to talk about there,” Pollio said, noting that the proposal would limit access to magnet schools for families who can’t provide their own transportation.
Changes about a year away
Pollio told board members he’d like to bring an official proposal in January 2024, followed by a six to eight week period for the community to weigh in before a final vote. The plan would be in effect for the 2024-2025 school year.
“I think in my opinion, what we need to do with this is really have some conversations in the community,” he said.
It would also allow time for magnet students to change schools if their families couldn’t accommodate the new transportation plan.
In the first days after August’s transportation meltdown, Pollio said the district was looking at overhauling the bus routes by as early as October.
But since then, Pollio told the board that staff decided there was no way to significantly improve the system without eliminating some transportation.
“We just felt like we've gotten it to a place that's not ideal, but much, much better than it was,” Pollio said.
It means current conditions are likely to continue for the rest of the 2023-2024 school year.
Responding to a question from District 3 board member James Craig, Pollio said JCPS might be able to implement the “hub” model for magnet students in January if necessary.
“If we get to a spot in December, where it is not sustainable, that may be something we would implement for January,” he said. But he noted that it would be a challenge to reroute 16,000 students in the middle of the year.
Stipend for early childhood families
The board approved a $5 a day stipend for low-income families in JCPS’ early childhood education program who find their own transportation for their 3 and 4-year-olds. Parents have to report the stipend as taxable income.
The start of the early childhood education program was delayed by more than a month due to the transportation debacle.
Pre-K classes opened on Monday, but JCPS only provided transportation for students who are guaranteed a bus under their special education plan. Pollio said 81% of students made it to school that day.
Moving forward, only special education students will be provided transportation in the early childhood education program. All other families will have to find their own transportation.
The board approved changes to this year’s school calendar that should allow the district to avoid any June makeup days, and still maintain the state-mandated number of instructional hours.
The board waived four days missed due to the transportation crisis.
Originally scheduled as professional development days for staff, Nov. 6 and Jan. 8 will now be school days for students.
Pollio said JCPS would be “ambitiously” using nontraditional instruction, or NTI, rather than snow days when weather hits.
Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.