Central Indiana bus coordinators prepare for first day of school

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- As school districts across the state head back to class, transportation directors prepare to get students there on time.

Many districts are hoping for a smoother start than last year. Last fall, some districts saw a driver shortage that led to late pick-ups and drop-offs.

This year, Indianapolis Public Schools will face a brand new system. The district consolidated to four centrally-located high schools, and students could choose which school they wanted to attend. That means some buses will take students across the district.

Transportation director Manuel Mendez says the new system will be more efficient. They hope to keep average travel times under an hour and 20 minutes.

"We're counting minutes and seconds to make sure we deliver on time," says Mendez. “It’s a very good change and it was a necessity. You had to have that change."

The new two-tiered system starts elementary schools at 9:20 a.m. Middle and high schools will start two hours earlier.

Mendez says the system will provide more time than the previous three-tiered system.

“With the three tier, you’re supposed to have one bus, three schools. But with inadequate time or inadequate drivers that three tier breaks down."

He says the district is covered for the start of school, but the first few weeks can be volatile.

Small changes have an impact. Some students may move addresses or start riding the bus. Drivers may also leave, retire or change their schedule.

Hiring new drivers isn't always easy. Mendez knows what it's like to face a shortage. "It’s always a challenge in any business. You’re always challenged to do more with less."

At Hamilton Southeastern Schools, it's no different. They had a driver shortage most of last year. "It becomes cumbersome at times," says transportation director Zach McKinney. "It’s a game of who can we move, who can we double up routes."

McKinney says while they are covered for the start of 2018-2019, they had as many as 38 open routes at one time last year. He even drove a bus for most of the school year.

Both districts increased pay to stay competitive, and they hope anyone that has interest will consider applying.

Other districts rely on private bus companies to cover routes. Last year Muncie Community Schools and Monroe County Schools faced shortages. Muncie was even forced to miss two days the first week.

Muncie Community Schools hired a route coordinator and signed a contract with a private bus supplier.  They say each route is covered and they don't anticipate facing the same problems as they did a year ago.

Monroe County says they signed a new contract with a private bus company. In 2017, they had 88 buses. Now they say they have as many as 144.