The School District of Lee County got some good news and some not so good this week when the district received a project update from the firm conducting an audit of its transportation system.
TransPar Group, based in Lee's Summit, Mo, studied the bus system from February through May and released its preliminary findings, stating that the District's Transportation Department and all other staffers with which it dealt were helpful and showed an interest in improving the system.
District principals graded the bus system as "very satisfactory. Costs have been declining since 2007-08 and while the per-bus cost is 3 percent higher than the state average, the cost-per-student is consistent with school "choice" districts.
That's good news.
Other findings target areas that have been a source of complaints for parents throughout the district, particularly in Cape Coral and Lehigh, where parents have said their children spend as many as four hours per day on buses to get to and from school.
"Route design guidelines and related transportation policies are inadequate to assure that student ride times are kept to a minimum," the two-page update states. "The current school bell time structure facilitates long bus rides. Bell times are far apart and shorter ride times are not rewarded with reduced costs."
The update states that the number of school choice options offered to parents selecting the school their child will attend contributes to the long rides while adding costs.
That's the bad.
The district has too many buses in use and "excess inventory" to boot.
And there is no easy fix to the ride time/cost conundrum.
"Adopting a more cost-effective school bell structure to substantially lower transportation costs will not, by itself reduce ride times..." the update states.
Meanwhile, the cost of establishing in-school programs so that more programs are offered in more schools as a way to reduce transportation costs might eat up any savings realized.
Not pretty but, as the update points out, no one would be served by slapdash quick fix.
There were few surprises here. Certainly affected parents and their weary children are aware of the district's transportation challenges as is the district, which did - finally - order the audit.
TransPar suggests the district continue with thorough analysis and the findings of the final report be carefully reviewed and discussed. Only then should the district decide how to proceed, develop a plan, plot a timeline and outline its financial goals.
Makes sense to us, provided this advice is not taken as an excuse to dawdle as the report is already overdue.
Children should not be subjected to rides that ultimately affect their ability to learn, and the district certainly needs every penny it can save from this and other programs where there may be excess cost.
Urge TransPar to complete its report quickly and meanwhile begin to address what elements can be dealt with with some immediacy. Finding seats at schools closer to home for those who seek them and taking a look at excess inventory during the upcoming budget process come to mind.
We agree, a well-reasoned long-term solution is needed. But a Band-aid or two along the way might ease some of personal and financial pain the current system has wrought.
- Breeze editorial