The revamped transportation system at Spokane Public Schools is getting its first big test this week, with morning temperatures in the teens and some elementary students walking farther to bus stops and school buildings.
However, documents prepared for Wednesday night’s school board meeting show strong improvement over last year in the overall transportation picture.
On-time performance by the school’s primary transportation provider, Durham School Services, has steadily improved this fall, from 80% in early September to 93% in the last week of October.
“We’ve implemented some strategies and they have turned out as we had hoped,” said Shawn Jordan, the district’s chief operations officer.
Coming off a year of haphazard performance by Durham – partly due to a nationwide driver shortage – the district made several changes going into the final year of its contract with the national firm.
Changes included fewer bus stops, longer walks to school for middle and high school students, and a new partnership with the Spokane Transit Authority.
The biggest change is an extension of the walk boundary, from 1 mile to 1½ miles for secondary students.
When the school year began, the district received calls from families confused about the change in the walk boundary, as well as from North Side eighth-graders who are still attending their home middle school this year but were listed in the system as living within the boundaries of the new Yasuhara and Flett middle schools.
But overall, complaints are well below the levels of last year.
“That’s not to say things are perfect,” but it’s much improved, Jordan said.
A big reason is the influx of new drivers at Durham.
At the end of last year, the Spokane operation had just 85 drivers. Thanks to increased pay and other incentives, Durham had 100 at the beginning of the school year; now it has 124, with nine more serving as substitutes.
Another 18 would-be drivers are in training and another 31 are being screened for potential employment.
Jordan said the partnership with STA has led to heavy ridership among high schoolers, with 80% of the attendance area covered.
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