Students who catch a school bus inside large, gated communities might have to travel farther to reach their stops, as the Beaufort County School District considers significant changes to its routes.
An audit, aimed at making routes more efficient and cost-effective, is nearly complete. One of the major changes being considered is consolidating stops within residential and private communities, where many students now receive what amounts to door-to-door service, according to superintendent Jeff Moss.
"As we are auditing routes, we will look at establishing one or two locations within gated communities that are the bus stops for the entire community," Moss said. "We would be able to load the buses more quickly and substantially decrease costs."
The district has budgeted about $7 million for transportation next school year, an amount that reflects growing gas prices and a rising student population. The district also tries to limit the longest routes to 60 minutes.
The audit is being completed by Durham Bus Services and the state Department of Education's Office of Transportation at no cost to the district, according to Gregory McCord, the district's student-services chief. This is the first time a complete audit of all routes has been done, he added.
"We have many routes that are complicated because of the water and land in Beaufort County," McCord said. "Certain routes won't be able to change, but others might be able to consolidate so that our routes are more efficient."
McCord said it sometimes can take almost 45 minutes to pick up fewer than 10 students in some vast communities with low speed limits. In such places, the district might establish one stop at a community clubhouse, Moss said.
He acknowledged some parents would not be happy but hopes they appreciate the cost and time savings the moves would create.
Moss Creek community parent Madeline Duncan said she understands what the district is trying to do but thinks it will create a hardship for some families.
As part of this audit, Durham and the state agency also will develop preliminary routes for the two new Bluffton schools -- the elementary school will open in 2015-16 and the high school in 2016-17.
The audit, which will include recommendations, is expected to be completed in May or early June. The new routes would go in to effect next school year.
McCord said it is too early to say how much the district might be able to save.
Board of Education Chairman Bill Evans said he thinks this audit is much needed.
"One of the things I have struggled with ever since I got on the board is our transportation costs," Evans said. "It's just silly that we expend extra money in an area like that when we could tell people we are going to make these changes and save money."
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