Rio Rancho Public Schools’ buses return to the transportation facility on Northern Boulevard after completing their routes Tuesday afternoon. (Gary Herron/Observer)

 

In a recent issue of Student Transportation News, Zūm, the leader in modern student transportation, released its first commissioned survey, the “Student Transportation Report Card: A Parental Review.”

The study found that when it comes to the school bus system, parents in America are most concerned about their child’s safety during a ride (34 percent), followed by COVID-19 infections (18 percent) and the lack of tracking and visibility (10 percent).

Rio Rancho Public Schools has been doing its best through its Department of Student Transportation to facilitate that, although that department’s executive director, Lynn Carl, said student behavior – sometimes a factor in safety – is an increasing problem.

Her department has one person reviewing video tape from buses on a daily basis, as instigators and perpetrators are sought. New cameras have been installed on all the buses, to help rectify behavioral problems.

That was revealed during her report at Monday’s meeting of the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education.

Echoing Carl’s behavioral concerns, RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland said, sometimes “behavior gets so bad (that it) threatens the safety of every child on that bus. It’s a safety issue and all it takes is for the driver to just be distracted just a very short period of time, you know a terrible tragedy can occur. I’ve seen that happen in other districts.”

Carl said some schools’ assistant principals have been disciplining students who have been causing problems on the buses, and their discipline has been stricter than Carl’s department may have mandated. And, she added, one driver has already quit because of student behavior.

“We are gonna hang tough this year,” Cleveland vowed.

Throughout the U.S., according to a 2022 School Transportation News poll, “82 percent of K-12 transportation professionals have experienced an increase in behavior challenges from student riders during the pandemic. This increase in behavior incidents is only making it more challenging for transportation leaders to address the driver shortages and high turnover rates facing school districts across the country.”

It’s not all bad news

There was good news from Carl, such as filling 14 driver positions among its 64 bus routes (43 general education and 21 for special services) and interviews with potential drivers are ongoing. A year ago, the district had 16 open routes.

Also, she said, there are only four routes without permanent drivers, compared to 17 of those routes last year. There is just one “standby” driver, Carl said, and four more are sought – nine drivers called in sick earlier Monday, she noted, accenting the importance of additional standby drivers.

Often, especially when the school year starts, students get on wrong buses or get off at wrong stops. As a result, a new student-tracking system will start before the new year.

Carl said students will be issued badges, which will be scanned as they board and depart buses, so it may be ensured that they are getting on the correct bus, and getting off at the right stop.

A supply shortage delayed the receipt of materials and computers, she said, but they are hopefully destined to arrive to the district in October and be “up and running” in December.

Also, related to transportation, 78 of the district’s 81 buses passed recent inspections with the other three buses being remedied to also pass. Carl said two new buses didn’t have working horns.

Also, field trips – curtailed during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 – are back for schools, and the district will be providing transportation to and from the Balloon Fiesta next week.