School buses ready to roll in Manatee

ataylor@bradenton.comAugust 9, 2011 

BRADENTON -- More than 11,000 postcards have been mailed to parents of school-age children in Manatee County notifying them of new bus stops for the start of school.

Don Ross, director of vehicle maintenance, offered a transportation readiness presentation Monday to school board members. He told them parents were sent the postcards about transportation with a phone hotline in case they had any other questions. That phone number is (941) 782-1287.

“We have three words: We are ready!” Ross said about transporting students for the first day of school on Aug. 22. “Every route has been redrawn and double-checked.”

His words were a far cry from the start of last school year. Bus drivers were complaining because a new computer system shorted their paychecks. As many as 50 bus drivers came out in full force last fall to let board members know their woes regarding the $105,000 computer system. Assistant Superintendent Jim Drake said transportation officials fixed the problem last school year by contracting with the software provider for about $15,000.

Ross says those days should be history. “We’ve heard everybody’s aches and pains,” Ross said. “There should be no surprises.”

Every bus route was “looked at and reviewed,” he said. Bus stops shouldn’t be more than two miles from students’ houses. And students with special needs are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Other changes in the district’s transportation department include: All buses will have air conditioning. Students are allowed to use their computer equipment, at the driver’s discretion. Schools are equipped with GPS devices and special software to be able to track down buses.

“I just hope everyone understands the challenges,” board vice chairman Harry Kinnan said about transporting students.

Kinnan said more than 30 percent of the district’s students attend schools outside of their assigned zones.

“This isn’t simply a matter of saying these are our routes, these are our people,” Kinnan added.

Board member Karen Carpenter wished the transportation department well in getting ready for the challenges of the school year.

“I was very impressed with the amount of responsibility bus drivers have particularly with the little ones,” she said.

The transportation department is working under new leadership. Former Transportation Director Terry Palmer resigned this summer. Ross is joined by Assistant Transportation Director Sheryl Riker.

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