Dayton Public Schools has made significant improvements this fall on its years-long busing problems, according to data from the district’s transportation department.
DPS school buses were on time for roughly 86-87 percent of morning routes and 90-91 percent of afternoon routes, according to August through early November records reviewed by this news organization.
Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton said that roughly compares to 69.7 percent on-time performance last year. But Burton admits last year’s actual number was likely lower, because some data is missing.
“We were so busy covering routes that (complete) data wasn’t captured,” Burton said.
They canceled an initial proposal to have seventh- and eighth-graders ride RTA buses, but tweaked busing procedures for day care centers, overhauled school schedules, introduced a smartphone bus-tracking app and bought 115 new buses.
Burton said the biggest reason for the improvement this year is the change in school start times, with some schools starting as early as 7:10 a.m. and others as late as 9:25 a.m., which allows one bus driver to cover multiple schools.
“We needed 175 drivers each day last year and we only had 150 … so you understand why we were challenged,” Burton said, adding that the district now has 142 routes. “We had to come up with a routing system that would fit our staffing numbers. That was to switch (to multiple start times), which means some kids have to get up much earlier, but we’re able to get you to school on time.”
LAST YEAR: Parents cite multiple busing problems
David Minnery, whose children attend Eastmont School, credited Superintendent Rhonda Corr for making busing a priority.
“She walked into a complete disaster, so it was going to take awhile to get it straightened out,” Minnery said. “They’re doing a lot better this year. The bus driver shows up on time every day. … They’re usually right on the nose or a minute before.”
Corr held a series of four town hall meetings in May to get families’ input on busing issues. District officials repeatedly said DPS’ poor academic performance would be tough to improve if students weren’t able to get to school on time, or sometimes get there at all.
Dayton schools hired a new transportation director, Michael Rosenberger, last year. Burton said the transportation department and its call center were revamped to include more support staff. The district is giving drivers more training and trying to boost morale with small rewards.
Bus drivers union representatives declined to comment for this story, as contract negotiations are ongoing. The union is working under the terms of the contract that expired this summer. It calls for new drivers to start at $13.85 per hour, while some neighboring districts such as Huber Heights and Mad River start at more than $18 per hour.
Dayton schools data shows that bus driver attendance was over 90 percent at the very start of the year and at its worst was 88 to 90 percent. Bus aides’ attendance was often at 85 percent or lower, though.
In past years, DPS families were painfully familiar with calling the transportation hotline and hearing that there were dozens of callers ahead of them, with a half-hour wait likely to speak to someone.
Call center wait times are also down this year, according to district records. Data from a sampling of days showed the number of calls down 30 to 60 percent. Last year, the average hold time was close to 10 minutes, while this year’s average is less than two minutes.
Despite the improvement, there are still problems. Joshua Combs, whose young children attend Kiser School, thinks the route their bus takes is too long. He said he likes the school, but his kids don’t get home until 5:30 p.m. – an hour and a half after school ends.
“I like the bus driver. She’s a nice lady, but I think they overwhelm her,” Combs said. “She drops off for three schools and they’re not on time. I have to work. Not knowing what time my child’s going to be on the corner of the street, it sucks.”
Burton acknowledged the district still has work to do. The district is still weighing whether to require more students to attend a school within their quadrant of the city.
“We’re not satisfied,” Burton said. “My goal is to have a 95 percent appropriate arrival time, and we’re not there yet.”