Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

By Gary Collins
Pine Bluffs Post Editor 

School Bus Strategy

 

August 17, 2017

Gary Collins/Pine Bluffs Post

Transportation director for the Laramie County School District No. 2, Lance West in his office at the Bus Barn in Burns

With the the approval of school zones, or boundaries for the upcoming 2017-18 school year for the Laramie County School District No.2 (LCSD), came the need to reconfigure the bus routes of the district to conform to those boundaries.

The job of doing so fell to Lance West, transportation coordinator for the district.

"No, I would not say that was an easy job," West said.

West stated that his first priority was to consider how the new routes and the elimination of old and familiar routes would affect the students who were no longer zoned for the school of their choice. West stated that he is completely supportive of school choice, but is unable to offer the services that have been in place in the past.

"What needs to be understood though is I can't continue to justify spending that kind of money," West said. "I can get them to those schools but they're going to have to come out and meet the bus to school at the closest point."

"So some of those were difficult conversations and trying to help families understand why the district, the school board put that in place," West said. "So, typically, what I do when I talk to these families is say it's very expensive to transport to schools. We will definitely offer transportation, it's going to be to the school you are zoned in, but if you are picking a school of your choice, which is perfectly fine, it's just I can't get the bus to what you were used to in the past, due to the adopted boundaries. In some cases, that's a hard conversation. In some cases that was an easy one, understanding one. Some of the families get it."

At the June 7 Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting of the LCSD Board of Trustees much discussion was held about how to mitigate the situation for the students and families of Albin who wished to continue to continue their education at Burns Jr./Sr. High though zoned for Pine Bluffs. It was decided that those students would be able to catch a bus at the Albin Community Center. However, a sunset provision of three years was imposed on this compromise. What was not brought up at the meeting were the students and families living in the Pine Bluffs Elementary zone who would prefer to attend Carpenter Elementary.

"There were families affected that live in the Carpenter area, I should say the Pine Bluffs zoned elementary area that choose Carpenter," West said. "They were affected. They live down in the very southeast corner of our county. They're zoned for Pine Bluffs elementary but they choose Carpenter elementary. They want their kids to go there. So those families were affected just as much."

There are 22 regular bus routes that cover the entire district each school day. West estimates that these routes will average 2,300 miles driven each school day.

"As far as cost, the highest cost in transportation is definitely fuel. Depending on how high fuel prices are for a year, that really drives the overall coat of the operation," West said.

On top of those regular routes are the evening routes for those students involved in extracurricular activities, such as sports practice, or those who are involved after school hours in study tables.

"In the evenings, we run what we call late routes. Those are for like the study table and after the athletic practices," West said. "We'll make stops along the way on the main roads, to get the kids at school late closer to home and the parents can meet us up there at those stops, and they are spread out all across the district."

These late routes, West stated, can add an additional 100 to 500 miles per day to the total miles driven. Add to that sports travel, field trips and other activities outside the district.

"Activities miles in a year span, depending on how successful they are, as far as athletic teams, we'll run about 50,000, 60,000 miles per year: the athletics, things like FFA, FBLA, wherever we gotta take those kiddos to get to their meets, conferences, or what ever the case may be. That's just right in Wyoming," West said.

On top of the cost of fuel is added the costs of purchasing new school buses. A bus that is compliant to state regulations can cost $100,000. The price is set by the state. 175,000 miles or nine years, whichever comes first. They like to stager purchase one or two a year.

"What I do is I take a look at the mileage on the buses and I try to stagger those buses out and use them so we get even mileages on all of them and try to put a plan together so we're not buying ten buses in one year," West said. "I don't know who could afford that. But if we get to the point where we buy one or two a year and keep that spread out then it's a lot better for everybody. Better for tax payer dollars, better for the district and it keeps newer equipment for the students, too."

West, in his post since June 2016, has his office at the bus barn in Burns. He has a crew of two mechanics, Mike Reifschneider and Jesse Schultz and one assistant mechanic, Tammie Leemaster, who not only maintain and repair the buses of the district but also the entire district's fleet of vehicles.

When configuring the new bus routes of the district, West also went about trying to make more efficient routes to reduce dead-head miles. He estimates that the new routes will reduce travel by about 200 miles per day. Part of that reduction is the practice of allowing drivers to take their buses home with them in the evenings.

"I've found that if a bus parks in a rural area, let's say that's northeast of Pine Bluffs, that route starts and finishes very close to that home, where that driver lives, you're reducing mileage, reducing payroll if you have that bus right there. Our driver work group understands that. In most cases they appreciate that, they don't have to get down to a central location, get that bus warmed and ready to go pre-tripped. It takes an hour to pre-trip a bus. . .Our drivers go through a very thorough pre-trip, all around the bus. Every feature is checked on those buses, prior to every trip they go on."

West was emphatic when stated that on a snowy or very cold day, his drivers will not leave kids by the side of a main road and require them to walk home from there.

"If we have a cold day, if we have a snowy day and let's say that stop is designated for the student to walk from their house a mile, or down a county road a mile, if it's bad, we're not going to say, 'You get off here and walk.' By no means would I ever do that. They'll take 'em as close to the house as they can," West said.

 

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