Uproar over new busing system

A+Unit+5+bus+waits+after+school+to+pick+up+students+on+Mon.%2C+Sept.+12.+Despite+owning+its+own+buses%2C+the+district+outsources+the+management+of+them+to+First+Student.

A Unit 5 bus waits after school to pick up students on Mon., Sept. 12. Despite owning its own buses, the district outsources the management of them to First Student.

Every new school year brings changes, some larger than others. But the 2016-2017 school year brought the largest change of my 12 years in Unit 5. This school year has brought new start times which resulted in the new busing system. The question is – is this busing change an actual improvement?

Unit 5’s transportation changes play a strong role in the lives of every one associated with district. The new school year began with an uproar over the busing system – upsetting parents, students, and faculty in all Unit 5 schools.

Unit 5’s goal was to shift all school’s start times in order to save the district money, this was beyond the other added benefits that were in discussion like providing high school students more sleep.

Going from a three-tier to a two-tier busing system meant that the middle school and high school students would travel together to the high school first, which starts at 8:30, then dropping off the junior high students for an 8:45am start time.   Unit 5 covers a wide geographical area of  Bloomington/Normal and surrounding towns while schooling upwards of 13,500 students (as of last year). Unit 5 spokeswoman Dayna Brown, in the Pantagraph, stated that the district transports 10,000 students twice a day and would estimate the bus issues are impacting more than 10 percent of those students.

With the new busing system, the buses have been overcrowded with students sometimes three to a seat. This occurs even with extraordinary measures like dispatching an additional bus to pick up remaining students, those who do not fit on their assigned buses. This process can take 20 minutes, but some students stated that they have had to wait 45 minutes for another bus to arrive. This results in students being late to school, being stuck at school, or arriving late to sporting events.

A student at a Unit 5 school posted a video of her overcrowded bus, her parents then shared it on Facebook and it spread to other social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter. Concerned parents posted their reactions on Facebook to the video showing how frustrated they are about the system.

Students have their own views as well on the bus system matter, Mallory Oloffson, an 8th grader at Kingsley Junior High, said: “ I hate the new bus system, my bus has been late countless times because it has been so over crowded.”

A parent of a bus rider gave their view of the situation: “I’ve been disappointed in the bus system this year,”said Jolene Baldwin. “I thought that by asking parents about ridership on the registration forms, they should have been better prepared to get all students to school safely.”

Baldwin, a teacher at  Prairieland Elementary, commented on the thoughts of improvements,“I have thought all along that there needs to be better communication with everyone, whether it be through Skyward or School Reach. The lack of communication has been an issue.”

Overcrowding or the lack of communication aren’t the only problems though, at the high school students struggle with busing on both ends of the day – arriving well into of after first hour or waiting for a bus at the end of the day and not arriving home until after 5:00 pm. 

Missing their first hour classes has sparked teachers to become upset with the transportation issues. While students are missing classes, this leaves them with more work to catch up on, more concepts that they are missing as they wait for a bus.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 13, there were 7 late buses to NCHS. On September 12, there were 13. Emails were sent out to staff the week prior explaining that some buses were running behind “an undetermined amount of time” and that some routes had “no assigned driver”.

Agriculture teacher Miss Liz Harfst commented, “I am glad that I don’t teach a first hour class because many students have missed some or even all of their first hour classes. If I had a first hour I would be very frustrated.”

The plan of action to assess this busing matter began with a phone call home from Unit 5 superintendent Mark Daniel telling parents that it is their “primary focus at the moment.” That was September 2. The busing problem still seems out of control. In a WJBC article Daniel was quoted as saying, “ We are targeting to have September 10th be the day that everything is running smoothly”. Although this meant to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel for the new busing system, that day has come and past with no real improvements to be seen.

In my own neighborhood there are now two running buses for Unit 5 students during the second tier, one for the high school students and one for the junior high students.  Which begs the question, why the change?  Why change something, cause an uproar only to separate the junior high and high school routes? To revert back to the original system in a sense.  The end result of the busing switch is still unknown, but as Unit 5 tries to perfect the new system – they still have a long way to go.