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10-20-21 NPS Transportation Communication - Revised

October 20, 2021
 
 
Dear Northville Public Schools Parents, Families and Staff,
 
This letter outlines a change to our bus services that will affect most families in the District. It includes a new bus schedule that is important to review, as well as information about new bus stops for some families.
 
In order to provide a more predictable transportation program for our students and families, we are making the following two changes to our transportation program:  
  1. Proactive Planned Route Cancellations  - Beginning Monday, October 25th, we will cancel three routes each week.  For that week, there will be no morning or afternoon bus service for the neighborhoods affected. The routes that are cancelled will rotate in a pre-planned schedule, so that cancellations are spread evenly across all routes, with each route cancelled about every six to eight weeks. This plan will continue until such time that an adequate number of drivers are in place to reliably cover all routes.  The purpose of this plan is to make cancellation more predictable and fair across all families, while also reducing delays in daily routes.  Under this plan, the drivers normally assigned to the cancelled routes will be available to serve as replacements to cover any driver absences and all unassigned routes. This way, we hope to avoid, to the greatest extent possible, unplanned route changes and lengthy delays due to uncovered absences.   Please note that state-mandated Special Education bus routes will not be cancelled.  Additionally, a shuttle to/from each elementary school and the Amerman ALPS program will remain in place.

    The route cancellation schedule through Winter Break is linked here..  This affects each family utilizing our transportation program, and should be reviewed to determine when your route will be cancelled. 

    While we are not able to guarantee that there won’t be any additional cancellations due to unexpected circumstances, the goal is to significantly reduce the frequency of last minute cancellations or significant delays, while providing families with timely notice of scheduled route cancellations so that alternate plans can be made.

  2. Reduced Number of High School & Middle School Bus Stops – With bussing to three levels of schools and the increased length of our bus routes, the number of High School and Middle School bus stops we have established cannot be sustained.  Currently, bus stops are placed about one-quarter mile apart, resulting in more frequent bus stoppages and loading delays within our subdivisions.  In many cases, drivers are not completing their High School and Middle School runs in time to begin their scheduled Elementary bus runs. 

    In an effort to improve the on-time pick up and arrival of our students, we are reducing the number of High School and Middle School bus stops within subdivisions by resetting bus stops to be approximately three-quarter (.75) mile apart.

    High School and Middle School students will receive a new bus stop in the MiStar Parent Portal by Wednesday, October 27th, and the new bus stop assignments will go into effect on Monday, November 1, 2021.

    Please note that Elementary student bus stops, designated hazard stops and state-mandated Special Education stops are not affected by the change in bus stop spacing. 
Why is this Happening?
 
As widely publicized locally and throughout the nation, there is a severe shortage of bus drivers to transport students, impacting the vast majority of school districts who offer transportation. Because transportation is considered optional by the state for general education students, some districts have cancelled transportation altogether. Durham School Services (our transportation provider) and Northville Public Schools have worked intensively together over the past two years to continue to aggressively recruit additional drivers.  We have taken a number of measures to increase compensation, improve retention of drivers, and increase efficiencies where possible. For example, we routinely index our pay scales against other locales and we have increased driver pay by over 14% in the last two years alone.  
 
As a result of the driver shortage and to actively manage this issue in the most cost-effective way, NPS along with Durham Student Services consolidated bus routes to the extent possible.   Whereas prior to the pandemic we had thirty-six (36) bus routes, we now have twenty-eight (28) bus routes.  There are trade-offs for our families, including longer bus routes, more frequent bus stops, and increased ridership on our buses, contributing to the number of late arrivals and/or drop-offs. However, this step has been a calculated alternative to outright cancellations or further expensive pay increases.  In short, we have tried to balance fiscal responsibility with economic reality and family needs, with ever-increasing driver pay continuing to impact transportation services..

Despite the multi-year plan to increase pay as described above and consolidating bus routes, we remain short-staffed. To service 28 bus routes, we presently have 27 bus drivers and two Transportation Office staff members who are fully credentialed to drive.  In the case of more than one driver absence on a particular day, the Transportation Department has needed to re-assign students from their regular bus assignment to another bus that has available capacity.  As a result, communication has been challenging, and there have been additional bus delays, particularly for our elementary students. The Board of Education has been reviewing these issues at all recent meetings. 

As we get closer to the winter season when student ridership and staff absences routinely increase, we are concerned that more frequent, last-minute route cancellations may occur.  We are also concerned that winter road conditions will compound the number and length of the bus delays experienced thus far.  All involved understand that families want and expect to have a more predictable transportation program, and that last minute notice of route cancellations and/or significant delays are particularly frustrating and challenging for families.
 
***
We recognize the inconvenience caused by these adjustments to our transportation program, and we regret the hardship it may cause for families. We believe that the proactive approach outlined above will result in a more predictable transportation program during this period of severe driver shortages.
 
We will continue to aggressively recruit and retain additional drivers.  If you have any questions, please contact our Transportation Office at (248) 465-2073 and/or email nps@northvilleschools.org.  

Sincerely,

Michael Zopf
Assistant Superintendent for Finance & Operations

Mary K. Gallagher    
Superintendent