Parents have complained about bus routes implemented this year in the Long County school system.
Some say kids have gotten home as late at 6 p.m. Others have complained about kids not being picked up in front of their home, having to go to a bus pick-up point.
Thursday, Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters acknowledged schools had received complaints, but said he and his staff were working to make the new routes as smooth as possible.
“What we’re dealing with here is another symptom of us having to deal with growth, and also an issue of us just not having enough bus drivers,” he said.
Waters said the system has an increase in students of more than 200 kids from around 2,900 last year.
He said there is also only one qualified backup driver, so if more than one bus driver can’t work, then other drivers have to cover double routes.
“The only time that we have had kids getting home late, is when we have to do a double-run for a bus driver who is out,” the superintendent said. “To try to avoid this, we have had several of our teachers, and other workers, who were qualified to drive a school bus, cover a route when a bus driver has been out.”
Waters said that a third difficulty is the addition of a fourth school. In the past, drivers picked up kids from two schools, but with the addition of the high school, there now are four separate schools, and buses pick up kids from three of them.
Waters said the school board recognized transportation problems were possible. So a consultant was called in last year to make suggestions.
Waters also said that since bus routes were going to change anyway, officials decided to address a long-standing, separate problem.
“Kids are going to be kids, and it is a problem for every school system, having their smaller kids ride the bus with high school kids. It just creates problems that you can avoid if they are separated,” Waters said.
He said 32 routes, nine of them to the high school, were created after the consultant’s report. He said Smiley Elementary students get on the bus at 2:30 and then go to the middle school to pick up kids. They leave there about 3:15 and should get home by 4:30. Waters said traffic and weather can change the times, but if he can staff all of the buses, the kids usually arrive home on that schedule.
Waters said drivers are paid almost $16 an hour, but it is hard to fill the jobs. He did say four drivers are in training and two are close to being through.
But Waters said even with more staff, growth will continue to create difficulties.
Growth is why pick-up points were established, Waters said.
“In years past when the county was a lot smaller, the buses could just about pick up every student in front of their home, but now that’s not the case. We just have too many students,” Waters said. “Also, keeping our buses on the main roads to prevent them from backing up and staying off private property for liability reason, we have had to create more pick-up points. It’s just something that we have to do to accommodate our growth.”
He was optimistic people will adapt to the changes, and said he understood the difficulties people were having.
“It’s still early in the school year, we’ve only had 15 days of school, and we are working through the problems, it will take a little time, but we’ll get there,” Waters said.