By Kalea Hall
Although the Austintown School District’s transportation department received an excellent rating from the Ohio Department of Education, Transportation Director Colleen Murphy still would like to make improvements.
The state report, released in January, evaluated every aspect of the operation at Austintown from Nov. 20-21, 2013.
“[Transportation] looks nothing like it did when I first started,” Murphy said.
The district operates 46 buses, five of which transport special-needs children. The buses cover 27 miles, and each bus has two routes in the morning and two in the afternoon. They have an average ridership of 3,321 students. The average ridership per bus is 74.2.
The district’s operational expenses for transportation decreased from slightly more than $2.1 million in 2011 to slightly more than $1.3 million last year. Murphy attributes the savings to combining and consolidating bus routes, which decreased mileage.
She said she would like to see an improvement in the way parents or guardians are notified about bus routes.
Attendance sheets are issued to drivers, and checks are made to ensure the buses are not overloaded.
Murphy became transportation director in the late 1990s. Back then, a driver needed only a chauffeur’s license. They now are required to have a commercial driver’s license and a pre-service school-bus certificate, which they have to obtain every six years. In addition, every six years a background check is completed.
Random drug tests also are required by law, and each driver must have an annual physical. The drivers also are required to have a minimum of four hours of training every year.
The technology behind developing the bus routes also has changed.
“When I first started here, I did the maps and drew them with magic markers,” Murphy said. “And then I would give them to each driver. It was very hard to add the kids and move them around.”
Now, Murphy uses a state-of-the-art routing system that places students in what bus they should be in and monitors each bus.
“They [school board] have asked me to reroute the entire fleet every year for the past six years,” Murphy said.
Last year, Murphy had to make sure additional students had transportation because of the transition from neighborhood elementary schools to a campus.
The state report did say the district fell short in meeting “rapid turnaround” times. It was suggested that five days be given to drivers instead of three when a student is added or a student stops taking the bus.
Another state recommendation is for the district to stay “proactive” in its efforts to ensure routes are up to date and to possibly put a procedure and policy in place to limit the number of times a parent or guardian can request a bus-route change for a student.
The report gave the district excellent ratings for the method used for keeping drivers’ records and the district’s working relationship with the township police department.
The report also commended the district for obtaining a $1,070,880 state grant for 14 propane school buses to replace aging vehicles. The buses are expected to be in for the 2014-15 school year.