The county is in a student transportation crisis. Unfortunately, the crisis is not unique to Stafford County. There is a nation-wide shortage of bus drivers. In Stafford the results are, a vast majority of students are arriving at school late and losing important education time.
On September 20 the School Board received a presentation from school division staff on how severe the problem is for Stafford County.
There are no easy, magic wand, fixes to the problem. The School Board and school division needs to be attentive to the issue. While it’s good some data is being collected, I’m flabbergasted by the lack of data, and relevant data that has been collected. The simple metric of how many students, either by school level, by school, by geographic area, or even by bus route should not be that difficult to collect. There are multiple points of data collection for that metric, and it should be the very basic data collected.
Communication has been another sore spot for many parents. While there are going to be issues with student transportation with delays, route changes, etc. parent frustration can be reduced with a good communications plan and capabilities. Keeping parents informed can at least give stakeholders information and what to plan for. Frankly, the communications from the school transportation department has been dismal at best. In my own experience my child’s bus was significantly delayed two days a couple of weeks ago. By significantly delayed, I mean never showed up. No communication from the school division, no information provided in the bus tracking app. Parents called and the school nor the transportation department could give any information.
What drives even further frustration is the school division has spent a lot of money on improving bus radios, GPS tracking of buses, apps for tracking buses and other communication tools. It is difficult to believe the school division is making full use out of all the tools in their toolbelt to keep parents informed.
The role of the School Board
The School Board is an oversight board. They aren’t involved in day-to-day operations and can’t magically fix issues on the spot. However, they do have responsibility to do their job in that oversight role. They need to be asking questions, being the voice of the parents and ensure the school division leadership is being responsive, providing them with accurate information to make strategic decisions and holding staff responsible for the good and the bad.
At their September 20 meeting the School Board was given the opportunity ask questions of staff to gain insight on the issues at hand and make well informed decisions. When the current Falmouth District School Board Representative was given the opportunity, her response was “I have don’t have questions.” Unacceptable. The voice of the parents cannot sit silent, especially when parent voices were silence with the lack of public comment in the meeting.
The lack of drivers and buses is not going to be solved overnight, however a vigilant School Board can set the division on a path. School Board members need to define the data they want to see in order to make an informed decision. The School Board needs communicate or direct communications to parents to ensure parents are kept informed on changes to transportation, known delays, etc.
Finally, they need to be asking the right questions. Frankly the Board of Supervisors, who would be asked to fund proposed solutions to the crisis, are going to expect the School Board to be well informed and able to defend their proposals. Something, I have no confidence they are prepared to do at the moment.
As for action the School Board took at their September 20 meeting, they did the right thing by rescinding the Superintendents plan for changing transportation schedules. In a vote of 4-3 (current Falmouth SB rep voting with the minority) the School Board rescinded the Superintendent’s previous announcement to change transportation schedules. The planned changes were disruptive to families, greater burden to school staff, and did not have any guarantee of improved transportation service. It was a “let’s try this and see what happens.” The school division can not do that. The stakes are too high to take a see what happens approach. The School Board must do their job and be the oversight and voice of the parent, we expect them to be.