Wednesday was the first day of the 2023-24 school year in Jefferson County Public Schools, the school district based in Louisville, Kentucky, and it should have been a day of excitement and new beginnings for students and staff. Unfortunately, a shortage of bus drivers and a reportedly controversial computer program led to unusually long bus routes, frightened students and parents, and, ultimately, canceled classes.
Some in the area saw the trouble coming. JCPS officials recognized that an ongoing shortage of bus drivers led to longer bus routes and many tardy students during the 2022-23 school year. So on July 24, JCPS Superintendent Martin Pollio released a “new plan” generated through the computer program AlphaRoute, which cost taxpayers at least $199,000 but perhaps more than $265,000. Under this “new plan,” the 65,000 students in the district who use school bus services would not have to wait “more than an hour, if that,” Pollio claimed.
Despite those assurances, parents still had misgivings about possible bus issues. Some complained that their children had to walk too far or to cross busy intersections to get to their assigned bus stop. Others also noted that AlphaRoute had already been used in Columbus, Ohio, at the cost of $1.5 million, only to have students’ wait times increase.
They were right to worry. On Wednesday, some students were on the bus for up to six hours after school, leading to bathroom accidents and other health issues. The last students were dropped off at 9:58 p.m. Wednesday night, the Daily Signal reported.
Rep. State Rep. Jason Nemes also claimed that an “elementary student who didn’t speak English,” perhaps 7 or 8 years old, “was dropped off at the wrong stop,” and was rescued by other concerned parents who noticed him “crying.”
There were also reports that teachers spent much of the day driving around, shuttling students home. “What if a teacher had gotten into an accident?” Nemes asked. “Would they have been liable?”
“This was one of the most predictable problems in history,” he added.
Superintendent Pollio released a video statement calling the issues a “transportation disaster.” To prevent a repeat of that “disaster,” Pollio opted to cancel classes on Thursday and Friday, just the second and third days of the school year, to give officials time to remap routes and give drivers time to practice.
“We are going to take the next four days to make sure we work extremely hard to fix the errors that are in our transportation system right now,” Pollio said in the video statement.
In the statement, Pollio accepted responsibility for the bus issues and apologized to students, parents, and drivers. He added that drivers, who have already received a 5% pay increase to $21.69 an hour this year, will be compensated for working extra days this weekend to prepare for school on Monday.
In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for AlphaRoute called the JCPS transportation problems “extremely regrettable.” “[W]e recognize that the situation was extremely regrettable and likely caused by the significant changes to bus routing which were made necessary by the district’s severe driver shortage,” the statement read in part. It also claimed that the company is working “diligently to resolve the issues [the district] experienced.”
“We are fully confident that the new bell times and the new routes will work as planned, and we will do everything we can to support the district during this process,” the statement added.
A statement from Teamsters Local Union 783, which represents some of the bus drivers in the district, said in part, “We are very proud of our Members who went above and beyond to make sure every child was delivered home safely, even though the delivery times and conditions are 100% unacceptable.”
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