Daviess County Public Schools Superintendent Matt Robbins said the district thought they had bus routes squared away on Saturday, but they found out Tuesday there were about 1,000 students who hadn’t been assigned to a bus due to glitches in new software. Officials worked until 8 p.m. before making the decision to delay the first day of school. Robbins said a decision will be announced this afternoon on whether classes will begin Friday or be further delayed.
Robbins said while morning bus routes are unchanged from last year, they implemented a new transportation routing system for the afternoon schedule (a change stemming from a shortage of bus drivers).
DCPS is working with Transfinder, a national company specializing in making software for school bus tracking and routing, to manage their new schedule.
The software is supposed to automatically pull information regarding the students — such as their physical addresses and whether or not they’re a bus rider or not — from Infinite Campus, which is the DCPS student management database.
Robbins said of the just more than 11,000 students across the district, there are roughly 6,000 bus riders in total (although some may only ride the bus in the morning or afternoon, and some may not ride for periods of the year due to extracurricular activities).
Robbins said they found out there were some glitches with the Transfinder system, and only about 5,000 records had been imported.
“Saturday, we had produced what we thought were the bus routes,” Robbins said. “As we started pouring into the data, we started finding errors. Thinking we were fixing those, we just really were kind of almost walking in the same place with it. I really learned the severity of what we were dealing with about noon (Tuesday). Once I did, we started jumping into trying to problem solve, even until about 8 o’clock (Tuesday) night. That’s how hard we were working towards getting it straightened out so that we could go (Wednesday). It got to a point where we had too many unassigned students that we knew were bus riders — it was close to 1,000 — and there was too much risk.”
So, the decision to cancel classes for both Wednesday and Thursday wasn’t announced until about 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Robbins said as they continued to learn more Wednesday morning, that “had we gone today it would have been a very challenging day with justifiably a lot of upset people.”
“To risk any chance of a kid’s first day of school being on a bus for multiple hours, parents not knowing where they are, or sitting back at the school waiting to be picked up … that would have happened,” Robbins said. “I’m confident of that. There was too much risk out there for things to happen.”
Robbins couldn’t confirm Wednesday morning one way or another if they’ll be able to start Friday, but they plan to make an announcement Thursday afternoon.
The two days will be made up at a later time according to assigned days on the calendar. According to the calendar, the first makeup day would be Feb. 20 and the second would be May 23.
While the problems over the last two days directly affected the start date, Robbins said the issue really stems from the shortage of bus drivers. Robbins said he thinks at one time DCPS had between 110-120 bus drivers, but currently they are in the 80-90 range.
“COVID really impacted a lot of our transportation staff. Many of them are older. … And so I think a lot of them in that era of time just [decided it was time to stop] or maybe thought it was hazardous to their health,” Robbins said. “That’s a tough demographic to replace. We’ve seen that in all sectors. Those were a group of people that were very ambitious about working and dependable individuals. They’re not only tough to replace in numbers, they’re tough to replace in terms of the quality of the work that they perform.”
Robbins said the transportation department has gained efficiencies over time to be able to operate on fewer people, but they still don’t have the number of drivers they need.
That led to a couple of changes that were implemented this year. In addition to trying to use the new routing software, DCPS is implementing “bus stops” for dropoffs within neighborhoods.
Rather than dropping each student off in front of their home, DCPS is dropping off groups of students in a “bus stop” fashion in subdivisions — meaning they’ll have to walk down their own street or even around the block. Rural routes will not be impacted by the bus stops due to the distance between residences. The morning schedule will also not be affected, as buses will pick each student up at their residence.
“We’d love to keep doing (door-to-door dropoff), but the problem with doing that is it requires more manpower, which we don’t have,” Robbins said. “And it doesn’t look to be self-correcting anywhere in the near future.”