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Why Do Buses Leave SHS Nearly Empty, Asks One Reader

Superintendent Joseph Sawyer answered this week's You Ask ... Patch Answers.

We’re all a little curious.

Driving through town, you may wonder if that vacant building you pass will ever be occupied, why there’s no stoplight at a certain busy intersection, how long it takes to complete a road project or one of a million other questions about your town.

That’s where Patch comes in. With our feature, “You Ask ... Patch Answers,” we will strive to find the answer to all your questions—big, small and in-between—about the town we live and work in. Whether it’s something you’ve always wondered about, some information you just can’t put your hands on or a sudden curiosity, we want to hear it.

Send your queries to Jennifer.Lucarelli@patch.com or leave them in the comments section below, and I will do my best to dig up an answer for you. You also can call me at 508-330-7763.

This week, a Shrewsbury Patch reader asked why some buses leave the almost empty.

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"Your reader is grossly underestimating the number of students who ride the bus home from the high school. While it is true that a substantial portion of high school students either remain after school for activities or go home in a private vehicle, several hundred students ride the bus home each day. I'd be happy to meet your reader at SHS at dismissal time and we can do an estimate together. Regarding an opportunity for savings, our contract with our bus vendor is predicated on a cost per bus per day, regardless of how many runs that bus makes in a day.

"We have multiple tiers of bus runs, including high school, middle schools, elementary schools, Beal Early Childhood Center and private schools in Shrewsbury. Buses make up to three runs in the morning and another three in the afternoon. Because of the cost structure, which is typical for our sector, reducing the number of high school runs would not save any money because even if we could do this we would still need all 43 of our in-district buses to complete the other tiers and still need to pay the daily rate.

"Further, even if the cost could change by reducing the high school afternoon routes, the fact that different high school students have different commitments after school on different days of the week and at different times of the year would mean that to reduce these runs we would need to adjust the route schedule each day and we do not have that capacity.

"As for the cost of transportation to the school department budget, this year our total cost is expected to be approximately $2.34 million to transport about 4,000 of our almost 6,000 students to and from school each day. Bus fees paid by parents account for only about $600,000 of the total cost, with the rest coming from the school department's appropriated budget. In other words, parent bus fees subsidize only about 25 percent of the actual cost of transportation.

"Clearly, this is a lot of money, but to keep it in perspective it costs under $2 per individual student trip for the year. We use routing software to build the most efficient bus routes possible based on who registers to ride, keeping in mind that we must have enough seats available each day for all registered students.

"It is also important to note that in recent years we have reduced the scheduled bus fleet by five vehicles through routing efficiencies, saving approximately $50,000 per year for each bus eliminated, or a total of $250,000 per year. I feel that we have a very efficient transportation program, but we are always looking to improve, and we welcome suggestions that could help us do that."

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Jim Smith May 03, 2012 at 01:58 PM
I would like to thank Dr Sawyer for responding to a very important problem and one that is very costly. However we are talking about a lot of wasted money here and his answer implies that they have done all they can. I think $50K per bus is a lot of money---and in the spring, when the buses have few riders from SHS, there needs to be a "study" done on the need for X number of buses. If we do, in fact, have 5 or 6 kids on most of the school buses leaving the high school, shouldn't we do something about this rather than dismiss it? Use the information for coming contract with the bus company and negotiate a reduction that fits our true needs and not one predicated upon the past. That way we can save money that can better be used to retain teachers, provide lower class size at the elementary level, and enhance our schools in many other ways.

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