Chesterfield school bus

Chesterfield school officials are asking parents for updated information on how their child will be getting to and from school this fall as the school system tries to avoid the bus transportation problems it faced last year.

Tim Bullis, the school system’s executive director of communications, told the Chesterfield School Board at a Monday work session that the district is sending messages to parents to glean information about their child’s travel plans for the coming school year.

“We understand that there is definitely a digital divide, and there’s also a language barrier in our school system so we will also use multiple communication tools,” Bullis said.

“We’ll do so in multiple languages, and we will do so in electronic and hard copy [surveys].”

On Monday night, the school system sent a text message to parents with a link to a survey asking them if their child would be riding a Chesterfield school bus from home in the morning and back in the afternoon or whether they had alternative travel plans.

The information is being culled as school officials are working to map out the coming school year’s bus routes in a system which saw its share of late buses, driver shortages and frustrated parents at the beginning of the school year.

School Board Member Carrie Coyner said people might not pay attention to the district’s surveys, noting that with the end of classes this week, some parents may not have the coming school year on their mind.

“The only way people are going to give you this information in the time you need it is if it’s tied to you don’t get your class schedule, you don’t get your teacher assignment,” Coyner said.

Bullis acknowledged that parents may not be as responsive to the school system’s queries as summer break approaches.

Another key issue is that some families don’t know what their day care plans are for the coming school year, Bullis said.

After school officials finalize the bus routes, parents will be able to go onto E-Link, a website where they can get information about their child’s bus route and bus stop, Bullis said.

The school district also plans to allow parents to download a mobile application, called MyStop, to let them track in real time where their child’s bus is located as it drives along its route.

That application would also provide an estimated time of arrival at the child’s bus stop.

The school system has been using computer software as it tries to map out more efficient bus routes that have been drawn by hand for years. The system has 7,500 bus stops and 512 routes that have been drawn using a “pen to paper” method, according to Chesterfield school officials.

The presentation at Monday’s work session is part of a series of regular updates on transportation issues that school board members are receiving as they try to avoid the types of driver shortages and late buses that affected the system this school year.

A bright spot in the school system’s efforts to improve its transportation issues is that, amid recruitment efforts, the school system has more bus drivers now than it did this time last year, said Nita Mensia-Joseph, the district’s chief operating officer.

At the end of June 2018, the school system had about 475 drivers, Mensia-Joseph said. Now, the school year is ending with 502 drivers, she said.

“That’s much better. We’re retaining our drivers,” Mensia-Joseph said.

A key concern for the school system is that it could lose drivers in the month before school starts in August after annual contracts run out and some drivers opt not to return.

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