The following bus-related questions from Patch were addressed by William Sloan, Rockwood School District director of purchasing and transportation in Eureka.
How is the number of students allowed per bus arrived at? Specifically, how many students per seat? Some parents think three middle schoolers per seat doesn't leave room.
"We work with First Student on ridership and bus loading, but the answer to your question is complicated.
The routing system used by First Student utilizes a weighted load factor by grade that determines how many students are assigned to a bus. As an example for high school, a factor of .05 is used for 12th graders. This means 5 percent of the seniors are expected to ride. The factor used for 11th grade is .10, for 10th grade is .30, and for 9th grade is .50. These factors allow us to assign more high school students to a bus than the bus will seat, because we know very few seniors and juniors ride the bus in many areas.
The middle school factor has been adjusted higher to account for higher ridership. Example 8th grade is 1.2 or 120 percent will ride, 7th is 1.2, and 6th is 1 (100 percent). Looking at Crestview Middle School in Ellisville, the bus student loads range from a low of 17 students to a high of 60. LaSalle Springs Middle School in Wildwood loads range from 5 to 69. There is one LaSalle bus with a load of 65, and one with a load of 69. All the other LaSalle buses are 60 or less. The buses with the lowest load counts travel some of the more remote areas where the miles driven and the time required to run the route is the longest.
Most buses have 71 seats, and we do use some 84 seat buses in the more densely populated areas."
Do you or First Student draw those conclusions?
"We conduct bus counts on specific buses when there are reports of overcrowding during the first 5 to 10 days (of the school year). These reports may come from parents, principals or drivers. The counts are used to determine if we need to make adjustments to the routes. We are currently looking at seven buses that have been reported to us as crowded or not timely, and we will be making some changes next week. We also do counts for all buses in November and February for state reporting. Historically we know ridership is seasonal. Once the weather starts getting cold, parents start driving kids to school."
If parents think some buses are too crowded, what steps would you like them to take?
"Three years and prior, we were receiving complaints from the community of high school buses that were practically empty and there was a lot of pressure to cut back on transportation costs. Almost all of our buses have a middle school, high school, and an elementary route. Therefore reducing a bus affects all levels: high, middle, and elementary. Three years ago, we eliminated nine buses and after-school activities routes for high school and middle school to reduce costs due to these complaints.
Parents should call my office or mention it to the school principal if they feel the bus is overcrowded."
How many route adjustments typically are made after school starts and you all see which buses are more crowded?
"Ridership evolves constantly for school buses, and we make adjustments to ensure student safety and to ensure we are good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars."