Some local bus drivers have been seeing red this fall as they drive their routes to and from area schools.
At Monday's Kenai Borough School District Board of Education meeting, around two dozen employees of First Student, the district's contracted bus service, voiced concerns of safety issues on their routes. They also said they were frustrated in their effort to resolve the issues and felt they weren't being listened to.
Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones, along with Nan Spooner, district transportation coordinator, and Dave Spence, director of planning and operations, met with Rebecca Johnson, the contract manager at First Student and one of the drivers, to discuss the issues Wednesday morning.
Jones, who said at Monday's board meeting he was unaware of the issue, reported that the root of the problem was the district's use of a new computerized routing program called Edulog. In the past the district has manually drawn out routes for drivers to follow. The new software no longer provides routes, but instead lists addresses of pick-ups, and leaves it to the driver to determine which route works best.
"What some drivers didn't understand is that it was up to them to use their discretion to get between stops in as timely and safely a manner as they could," Jones said.
Tom Hyatt, the district regional manager for First Student confirmed that much of the confusion had resulted from the change in technology.
"Edulog is good, but it takes some time to get it running well," Hyatt said, "It's not going as fast as everyone would like."
Hyatt said the use of the system has created frustration in other districts where it's been put into use as well.
"We've been through a couple of these issues in the past. In Anchorage when it was implemented it was a disaster, this is not nearly as bad," Hyatt said.
Jones said his first priority in fixing the situation is addressing any remaining safety concerns.
"By Friday, their dispatcher will have talked with every route driver to address concerns. We'll then sit down and make any necessary adjustments. We're going to make sure everyone understands how the routing system works and what the best way to adjust it is," he said.
Jones said they also discussed the issue of poor or rude communication on the part of the district.
"It was clear there was miscommunication on both sides," he said.
"We made it clear that if drivers had concerns they should go to (Rebecca Johnson) who would then go to our folks, and if issues couldn't be resolved they could go up the ladder," Jones said.
As for dealing with the complaints of rudeness, Jones said, "I asked the First Student people to give me specific examples of when and where these instances occurred, I will follow up with people, and if there's credence I'll address that."
Jones stressed that for the time being his chief concern is sorting out the safety concerns.
Dante Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 335-1238.
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