Bus services play an important role in the 234-square-mile Northwest school district.
In fact, 62 percent of students within the fast-growing district take advantage of daily transportation services, said Dennis McCreary, assistant superintendent for facilities, planning and construction.
Not everyone is eligible to ride one of the 153 buses owned by Durham School Services. Since August 2011, Northwest has implemented a two-mile limit for student transportation services. All students outside of two miles of a campus are eligible for bus service.
The two-mile limit saves the district about $1.5 million a year, McCreay said. Some students within two miles of a campus are allowed to ride the bus if the district deems their way to school to be a “hazardous route.”
“We as a district evaluate hazardous transportation conditions and designate certain routes throughout NISD that are less than 2 miles from the schools as ‘hazardous routes,’” McCreary said.
The total service and fuel cost of Northwest’s transportation services is a little more than $6.5 million per school year. But the district uses staggered school start times to help limit the cost of transportation.
The triple staggered times were tied into the two-mile eligibility requirement and were implemented in 2011, McCreary said. Elementary classes start at 7:45 a.m., high school classes at 8:35 and middle school classes at 9:20.
Today, the district has 105 routes. By going to staggered start times for elementary, middle school and high school, 21 routes – 13 percent of the total routes – were eliminated, he said.
Fuel costs can have a significant impact on what the district spends on bus services. “Fuel costs are 19 percent of the total transportation cost,” McCreary said. “Therefore, it has a big impact.”
But there’s no crystal ball to tell district officials how much to budget for fuel. “We do the best we can to forecast the cost of fuel,” McCreary said. “Sometimes we underestimate, and sometimes we overestimate.”
What students get from the district’s bus services is a comfortable ride. The vehicles are equipped with radios, cameras, child check devices and air conditioning. The cameras view the front, back and entrance of a bus, including the driver.
The district’s goal, McCreary said, is to provide safe, dependable transportation services for students. In 2012-13, Northwest buses were involved in just three accidents deemed driver fault. The district’s buses travel an estimated 1.8 million miles in that school year, according to McCreary.
“As the district becomes more densely populated and more schools are constructed, we will be able to reduce the amount of times between routes,” McCreary said. “With the opening of Eaton High School in August 2015, we are investigating the possibility of making the last tier of our start/end times earlier.”