When the new school year begins in just one week, many Beaufort County School District students will have to travel a little farther to their bus stops -- and the buses a little less to reach them.
It is one of several changes the district has made for the coming school year, which begins Aug. 18, to make bus routes more efficient and to cut costs.
Another addition this fall includes a GPS tracking system that will be installed on all buses and connected to a messenger system that informs parents if the bus is running late.
"It's the process of trying to do the most with the least," head of student services Gregory McCord said. "Our goal is to be as fiscally responsible as possible, and we wanted to make sure our buses were running the most efficient and effective routes."
The district worked with its bus company, Durham School Services, and the state Department of Education's transportation office to audit its current routes and determine changes.
McCord estimates the revisions will save the district about $200,000.
CHANGES TO STOPS, ROUTES
The biggest changes to the district's bus system will come from consolidating routes and stops to shrink the amount of time and miles that buses spend within neighborhoods and gated communities, McCord said.
Previously, students have received what amounts to door-to-door service, superintendent Jeff Moss said. It sometimes took almost 45 minutes to pick up fewer than 10 students in some vast communities with low speed limits.
The district had originally hoped to establish just one or two stops within these communities in southern Beaufort County, Moss said, but found the communities were too big to safely do that. So Durham and district officials worked with the community managers to determine the best centralized locations within the neighborhoods.
Hilton Head Plantation Manager Peter Kristian said his community worked with district officials "to help them find some safe places for stops."
The district has also moved its alternative-education programs to the district office in Beaufort from various locations countywide. This consolidation will require fewer buses to get students from their home schools to the alternative programs, according to McCord.
NEW BUS TECHNOLOGIES
All 127 buses will be equipped with a GPS tracking system called Zonar.
The system will show where the buses are; when, where and for how long they stop; and their daily mileage, according to Durham general manager Gary Bradley.
Moss said this tool will be key in ensuring the district's changes have their desired effects.
"We will be able to track the buses and make sure they are following the route that is designed, and is not off-route or making stops that are not assigned or anything else that would cost additional money," Moss said.
The GPS will be connected to another new tool -- a messenger system -- that will send alerts to students and parents if a bus is delayed, Bradley said. Along with increasing efficiency, the system will improve student safety, he added.
"As we completed the audit and looked at where we could make changes to routes, we always have to remember that safety is first," Bradley told the county Board of Education.
Although Moss said he is pleased with the anticipated $200,000 in savings, he was hoping to cut $400,000 from the transportation budget.
The district has budgeted about $6.5 million for transportation this coming school year, an amount that reflects higher gas prices and a rising student population. About $5.5 million was allotted for transportation in last year's budget.
The district could have saved more money if it had cut more stops, Moss said, but some of those changes would have caused students to walk unsafe distances or cross busy streets.
"(W)e do understand the human and safety element of it," he said.
The audit and the new technologies will not cost the district extra, McCord said. The audit is part of the district's contract with Durham, and the state is picking up the cost of the Zonar system, he added.
McCord said the savings will be used to offset the increased transportation costs from changing start times at Hilton Head Island High School. As part of a new trial this coming school year, the high school will start at a later hour, which is supposed to be better for students' success. Changing bus routes to accommodate the change will cost about $200,000.
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- Beaufort County School District bus tracker
- Beaufort County School District 2014-15 bus routes
- School district could change bus routes, stops next year: Beaufort County schools auditing bus routes for efficiency, cost savings, April 20, 2014
- Hilton Head High to have later start time next school year, March 8, 2014
- School bus drivers' union to hold press conference, forum today, April 16, 2013
- Beaufort County school bus drivers union accepts contract; no strike coming, February 27, 2013
- Durham denies safety complaints by Beaufort County school bus drivers, February 8, 2013