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Loudoun Public Schools’ transportation system brings tears, fears and safety concerns

A woman and young student walk from a bus drop-off in Hamilton. Times-Mirror/Alexander Todd Erkiletian
Long bus rides, disorganized schedules, unsafe bus stops and overcrowding are some of the issues parents are raising after the first few days of school in Loudoun County.

Is it a case of “normal” first week of school problems, or will this be the new norm for the school year?

Over the past week, social media has been flooded with stories about parent concerns for their children's safety. Students have arrived home in tears after long bus rides, a child with special needs has been left at the wrong school and parent pick-up lines at schools are growing increasingly longer as students ditch buses in favor of a school pick-up.Overcrowding and unsafe bus stops are a significant problem this year, parents say.

Stacey Danielson of the Rose Hill neighborhood in Hamilton said their bus route has been condensed from five or six stops to one this year. Moreover, where they congregate to meet the bus is at a blind spot on a hill, she said.

“It is dangerous,” Danielson said. “We only care about the safety of our children.”

Tom Abdoo also lives in Rose Hill and said they now have to walk half a mile to the stop on a curved road with no sidewalks. They have tried to appeal the bus stop location, but so far have received no response.

“It doesn't seem like there was a lot of thought given to the location of the bus stop,” Abdoo said.

Loudoun County Public School spokesman Wayde Byard said an outside consulting firm, Edulog Logistics, Inc., a bus routing software company based in Missoula, Montana, was hired by LCPS with an $87,000 contract to perform a route optimization study. The firm was tasked with performing a study in conjunction with converting and updating the existing routing software to receive daily updates from the county's GIS mapping system. The route-optimization study period began in the summer of 2016 and will continue through this winter.

“As the ridership adjusts within the first few weeks of the year, numerous changes will be made to the routing,” Byard said.

Byard said the primary focus of the study was the pressing need to improve services to students as well as addressing a driver shortage.
 “With an emphasis on safety, the Division of Transportation developed a bus routing optimization plan for the 2017-18 school year. The initial findings suggested the number of LCPS bus routes could be decreased from 394 to a range between 349 to 372. The maximum average head count on each bus could be increased from 38 to 52, and the estimated average run time for each route could be decreased from 23 to 17 minutes,” Byard said.

The LCPS spokesman said once the data was received from Edulog, LCPS transportation professionals reviewed each route with information provided by staff, since local knowledge may not have been recognized by the computer simulation.

“In some cases, efficiency measures implemented saves and shortens the amount of time students are on the bus. In other areas, changes are designed to reduce the number of double runs that require students to wait after school for their bus to deliver a first load of students and return for their trip home,” Byard said. “The new plan also allows LCPS to add students to a current route. This process will effectively reduce the shortage of drivers and attendants while improving the student-per-bus ratio and ultimately reduce the long-term number of bus purchases.”

For students who are asked to walk to school, the School Board adopted a policy in March so elementary students may be required to walk up to one mile and secondary students one and one-quarter mile.

A Leesburg parent who asked to not be identified said his child is required to walk about a mile on a winding, unlevel road with no sidewalks or street lights to reach the bus stop.

“If I weren't experiencing it for myself, I would not have thought this was even legal. They are actively making my child less safe on his way to school,” he said.

“Why have my child walk a mile for a bus? Why not have him walk two miles? Why have bus service at all? The decision on pick-up points is driven purely by money and arbitrary rules and not about safety. At least allow for an appeals process that is based on safety concerns. I'm not asking for doorstep service, and I'm happy for my child to walk a reasonable distance to a nearby intersection or cul-de-sac, say a quarter mile. A mile in the road, in the dark, with no sidewalks seems way over the top,” he added.

“Finally, why is the school board willing to put taxpayers at risk by increasing our collective liability? The number of tragic scenarios here is large, and the county is willfully walking into them and the resulting lawsuits that follow. This seems very shortsighted," he said.

Byard said parents are encouraged to enter their concerns on the website, http://www.webinter.lcps.org/concernregistry.

Students and parents have reported three high school students in a seat and some kids even have to sit on the floor.

Dawn Jewell of Cabin Branch neighborhood in Sterling said her daughter's bus was packed.

“Last year she had the same bus for morning and afternoon and no crowding,” Jewell said.

Byard said bus routes are established with three primary-aged students and two secondary students per seat. The first couple of weeks each year fluctuating ridership occurs, and this levels-out once the actual ridership is established, he added.

Currently, LCPS is in need of hiring about 20 drivers, which Byard said is a significant improvement from previous years.

“This figure includes the employment of more than 50 substitute drivers that are being utilized daily to fill routes for which full-time drivers are being sought. As the route optimization and driver recruitment and training continues, these numbers will be revised,” Byard said.

Heather Gosman has two children in the Rock Ridge High School district and said this is the “worst year [she has] seen.”

Gosman and her ex-husband Bill Gosman share joint, legal 50/50 custody of their children, and Bill recently purchased a home in the school district to make the trip to school easier every day. The transportation department has told them they will not provide transportation from Bill's home.

“We have been trying to work with the county for several days, and I have talked to two separate School Board members. So far we have been told they are working on it,” Heather Gosman said.

“It is very chaotic. I understand there are bigger issues than this, but this is more challenging than we anticipated,” Heather Gosman said.

Tami Carlow, who has children attending Woodgrove High School in Purcellville and at Harmony Middle School in Hamilton, said they regularly spend three hours a day on the bus.

“I had high hopes for today, and I do realize the first few days are always the toughest. I can tell you the bus drivers are amazing,” she said.

Claudia Skinner of Leesburg has a 14-year-old daughter with special needs. She said normally they receive a notice via email with the bus assignment and time prior to the start of school. She never received a notice this year. She was told by other parents to check ParentVue, the online system for student information used by the county, and it was never updated with bus information.

On the first day of school, Skinner decided to take her daughter to the regular bus stop at same time as previous years, and they waited for an hour. A bus never showed up.

She took her daughter to school and spoke with the principal about the situation. She has been told the school is “working on it.” Skinner said she has still not heard back from the bus transportation department.

As a full-time working parent, Skinner has had to rearrange her schedule to drive her daughter to school and pick her up each day.

“The implications are significant. We are re-working our entire day around transportation. There are not many options for us, and my daughter does not easily understand changes in her routine. She is routine-oriented and this is really throwing her off,” Skinner said.

“For a mom that needs to work and has a special needs child this could take months to fix,” she added.

School Board member Eric DeKenipp of the Catoctin District released a statement saying he encouraged members of the community to direct their concerns to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). He is requesting that the transportation policy be added to the School Board agenda for Sept. 12, and he intends to make a motion for parents to have the ability to appeal bus stops.

DeKenipp told the Times-Mirror that removing parents' ability to appeal was the wrong decision, especially when it comes to safety matters.

“I am hearing so many stories and parents should be able to appeal. I hope the board feels the same way I do,” he said.

DeKenipp said the amount of problems with bus transportation schedules and service are a result of the broad scope of changes that were made as a result of the consulting firm hired by LCPS to review and consolidate bus routes.

“I understand there may be a level of frustration with these changes, but within this there are some serious and valid concerns. We can't ignore that,” DeKenipp said.




Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @KarenGGraham.

Comments


The slashing of transportation funding has been, at best, penny wise and pound foolish.  Just from an efficiency perspective for other citizens.

I grew up in what many folks would call the country now.  The bus stopped at nearly every kid’s house and certainly every quarter mile.  It took about 10 seconds because there were only 1-3 kids and no traffic in waiting.

Fast forward to Loudoun.  Even with the bus stops that are close by, nearly 15-30 kids get on at each stop because of the housing density.  That causes a wait of 60-120 seconds (min) for the other cars in both directions.  But at least the cars in the opposite direction can move on once that stop is over. 

If the stops were spread out even further, you would be waiting 3-4 minutes per stop in both directions.  And more parents would take their kids to school rather than sending them 1+ miles down the road in hopes they don’t miss the bus and they have to take them anyway.  That is more cars on the road and much more traffic near the schools.  This doesn’t even count making cars stop as kids cross the road to get to the bus stops.  Buses help non-parents as much/more than they help parents.

MS/HS kids do walk to school when they can.  But time is $$.  Treating kids’ time as free (sitting on a bus for 2-3 hrs/day) is ridiculous.  If any one of you had to sit in traffic for an extra hour simply because our BOS didn’t want to build overpasses on Rt 7, you would be going ballistic.  Look, we can either (A) keep the small schools spread throughout western Loudoun so commutes are quick or (B) add extra bus routes so they don’t spend 2-3 hrs/day on a bus.  But Hornberger and his corrupt pals on the LCSB can’t have it both ways simply so that his spouse, Paula, gets more $$ in her paycheck.  You can’t close small schools and then reduce the buses so the kids are en route all day.

We need to pass that law that removes all family members of school district employees from the school boards.  Maybe then the decisions would be based on the interests of taxpayers, students and parents rather than teachers and their spouses.


Kids today have it made. I actually did walk over a mile(1.2 miles)everyday in all weather to get to school that did not have A/C in the classrooms.(only the offices, and the band room had A/C period!)All through my schooling except college which did have A/C and I thought I had died and gone to heaven, had Air.  I have noticed and hate getting behind them, that busses stop and every corner.  We don’t want to inconvenience the little darlings.  And they walk in front of traffic like they have all the time in the world. We have created overweight, inconsiderate, little crybabies, just like their Baby Boomer liberal parents.


john m & alex - just look at past articles about lcps - no matter the related topic, vocal minority of ltm posterboys want to destroy lcps, don’t use lcps services, want to steal public funds from public schools

they don’t give a whit about your kids


@John M. three hours is a bit extreme.  I hope those parents come to the School Board and jam them big time.  Didn’t Dr. Williams get another bonus.  I bet the School Board members students were not part of that three hour deal.  Also, if you keep electing an intellectual fraud like Turgeon, what do you expect.


Nonsense, we have talented students and thus high overall schools. However, on the international PISA exam, LCPS students scored at the bottom compared to similarly affluent students in the US and the world.

Thus, our schools are not stellar. But we give LCPS $1M/yr to produce “feel good” videos and propaganda out of their PIO shop.


The complainers are just getting ready for the 1st snow.


Brian, there you go again. Assuming things make you look, well, I will leave that be. I am not Billy Fox, don’t know him. But wait, maybe I should take offense that you don’t know me!! I might have to go to court over that! Isn’t that your modus operandi?


Reading these comments you’d wonder how it is that Loudoun is considered by most to have very good schools. 

Maybe it’s just that we have a bunch of cranky commenters and each has a personal (though petty) axe that they enjoy grinding in the public square?


Billy Fox (overload), you just can’t accept accountability for your own votes or those of your best bud (isn’t that how you described Hornberger).


Leave it to old Brian. Can’t miss a real issue without taking personal shots. SMH.


Did anyone find any leftover C4 explosives in the buses this year?

No, they haven’t.  So, in light of that dramatic improvement, LCPS thinks the year is off to a great start.


Some of the comments on here are crazy.
Lawman- Kids who live in some parts of Purcellville are getting out of school at around 2:30 pm. They are not arriving home until 3 HOURS LATER. You don’t find that troubling, and you think people just need to chill? Parents of elementary age school kids don’t know where there kids are for 3 hours- that is nuts.

DLJD: Yes, let’s sell them thar buses! Heck fire, I used to walk 10 miles in hip deep snow to yonder school back in my day.
Seriously? Stop providing transportation to schools to save tax money so that cars can be lined up at schools for the entire rush hours as parents drop off and pick up kids. Man, I wonder how some of you people manage to even pay your bills.


School Board has to go for not holding staff accountable.  They keep making the same mistakes when it comes to transportation.

SCHOOL SYSTEM WAKE UP: Top issue in most homes in Northern VA is TRANSPORTATION.  We wear it like an old coat.  It effects where we live and work and shop and play and send our kids to school.  Yet the school system thinks it is a sub-par issue.  1st educate the kids (which is lacking also when compared to the amount spent per child), then get them to school, then everything else follows.


DLJD I don’t know buddy, I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that it sounds like your kids went to private school.  And I think it stands to reason that if you can afford private school then you probably have some pretty flexible work hours.  I mean, you aren’t punching a time card am I right?


I’m with Jonathan Erickson, sell the buses. I don’t know why taxpayers need to be responsible for getting students to school. I managed to get mine to schools as far as 20 miles away with private carpools and without taxpayer assistance. Parents need to step-up and be responsible for their own children.


Having chaired the initial Health Safety and Wellness Committee I am surprised LCPS is now looking to have outsiders blamed for not doing a top notch job in scheduling transportation within a $1 billion budget. With executive pay now nearly at $200 GRAND per yer when including benefits talent should be in-house.
Some metrics that were not mentioned in the article:
Schools can have their opening and closing times changed to allow more efficient delivery of students as well as more chance for breakfast for students.
Special ed buses can be more inclusive allowing students going the same way to be on the bus with the special ed student, aide and driver.
No bus routes with less than 50% utilization should be accepted without school board approval and finally it is not safe to have any small child ALONE on the side of any road in Loudoun and all it would take is one kidnapped child to prove it.
Bob O__ Esq.


LCPS is pretty innovative as far as finding ways to continuously mess easy things up.


I don’t believe children should have to walk a mile to a bus stop without a sidewalk. As a geographer, I would suggest you check the following County map to verify that it correctly shows that there are no sidewalks in your neighborhood, then use this this map to help prove your case for unsafe conditions.

If you believe an area where a bus stop is located is unsafe due to hilly conditions and curvy roads, you may want to pull a topographic map to show the relief of the area and a roads map that can prove the arc of the curve.


I understand the concern about special needs kids, they deserve the utmost care, but, gee whiz, many of these helicopter parents in Loudoun need to drink some wine or take a medically prescribed chill pill.  But this is where we are, little Becky or Billy have to go through a few changes to get an quality education and folks lose their minds.  The next time you are having a conniption about a late bus ride, think about the folks in South Texas.


LCPS should outsource the school bus pickup spots to a logistics company like FedEX or UPS. They could likely come up with a better alternative plan to picking up children (no different than packages).

Leaving the bus schedule to pea-brain Government workers is a recipe for disaster.


Sell the buses.


Instead of wasting $87K on poor software, why not have some of those chiefs ride the bus route and actually see what makes sense? Of course it starts with poor school boundaries. Makes you wonder why LCPS even has a planning group? Perhaps it’s time to contract out transportation/buses in Loudoun and just worry about education for the kids.


Staff has made some mistakes but ultimately those responsible for this is the school board. They cut salary and benefits for drivers which has led to the driver shortage, as they were warned it would at the time, and they have regularly chosen to delay maintenance and replacement of buses to reduce spending. Finally this year they spent more in transportation to acquire some replacement buses but not enough to offset the years of previous cuts. It is amazing the things the board has chosen to fund before fulling funding getting our children to school safely, on time and in a reasonable amount of time.


Well that’s leadership for you, Eric, refer ‘em to a website. 

This is what happens when you favor outside alleged experts versus people with local knowledge.  We’ve taken a bad situation and a problem that’s been festering for years due to poor leadership and almost nonexistent planning and made it exponentially worse—how—by passing the buck to alleged “experts.”  Plug a few numbers into a computer and spit out an “answer” that has kids walking on dangerous roads in the dark because that computer has no idea there aren’t any sidewalks there.

Eric, the Board, and LCPS leadership have known for years that transportation is a train wreck and they chose to “deal” with it by writing a check to an outside expert.  There isn’t much point in having a School Board if they can’t step in and fix a mess like this—themselves—based on their local knowledge.  Otherwise, what’s the point.


I don’t understand why everyone is upset. Your children may be a little less safe and much more inconvenienced but school board member Eric Hornberger’s wife, Paula, is about to take home a LOT more salary with all this transportation funding that was slashed. Why are we worried about kids when LCPS schools are for the admins/teachers and of the admins/teachers.

Parents really need to get their priorities straight. Send over more tax $$ for their pockets and shut up.


It is a mess. I don’t normally care about these types of things but the administrators and school board screwed the pooch on this. We have kids sitting the floor of buses, ‘shadow’ buses, long waits, etc….  they spent 90k for what should be simple math: number of kids/number of kids that fit on a bus = number of buses.  I joke and troll a bit here….  but this really ticks me off.

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