After a District 65 Board Policy Committee meeting at which several transportation options were presented, Karen Smilowitz, a Kingsley School parent and Northwestern University professor of industrial engineering and management sciences, approached the District to offer her expertise. She was one of several Kingsley parents who attended the Dec. 7 Finance Committee meeting to speak in opposition of a proposal to eliminate one of the bus routes that serve the school.
District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren said that at the Dec. 7 meeting, “Karen said, ‘I’ll take some laptops and count cars at Kingsley [to ascertain the present congestion there].’” From that meeting a partnership with Northwestern University has developed, he said. A joint team composed of Dr. Smilowitz, some of her students, and District 65 personnel, will assess the District’s overall transportation services.
District 65 has been looking at its bus routes with an eye to making them more efficient in terms of time students’ time spent on the bus and of District expenditures for transportation.
The plan for the transportation system was presented at the Feb. 8 Finance Committee meeting.
The team will look at data about ridership counts, length of bus routes, literature and best practices, school start times and dismissal times and the results of a parent survey to be offered in the next few weeks. As the project progresses, the District will ask Dr. Smilowitz and her team to consider fee-for-service options and after-school busing, said Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Mary Brown in a Feb. 8 memo. The survey was disseminated electronically last week and will be given in hard-copy form to parents at parent-teacher conferences this month.
The survey will be given to parents of students eligible to take the bus, even if they get to school by other means, such as walking or by car.
There are three stages to the study. In stage one, through June of this year, the team will analyze and assess the current system – route distances and lengths of time, stops per route, distances to current bus stops and scheduled length of time per rider. They will also look at the results of the parent survey and study traffic congestion.
In stage two, to take place this summer, the team will identify solutions that are feasible under the current system. “How do we work within the present constraints?” will be the focus of that stage, said Dr. Smilowitz.
In the third stage, likely next year, the team will propose new ideas and solutions that extend beyond the current system. Dr. Smilowitz said for this “larger-picture” stage, she hopes there will be joint District 65/Northwestern University grant proposals, perhaps to the National Science Foundation.
For next year, there will be no major changes to the District’s busing system, Dr. Goren said, but there could be “slight changes” to some bus stops. At present, District 65 students are eligible for free bus transpiration if they attend magnet schools, live a certain distance from a school, participate in certain District programs or must cross certain busy streets.
Finance Committee member Claudia Garrison said the bus routes are “crafted according to children eligible to take the bus, not those who actually ride.”
Jordan Ryan, District 65’s transportation coordinator, said the District has made some adjustments for that but has not been able to decrease the number of buses. She said the District hopes to obtain confirmation from eligible families this spring about whether their children will in fact use bus transportation next year.
Ms. Ryan also said the District will end the practice of allowing non-eligible students to ride the bus for free if the family has obtained permission from the school principal. “Going forward, that will not be the case,” she said.
Finance Committee member Richard Rykhus suggested offering a fee-for-service to families who are not eligible for bus transportation but whose children ride the bus anyway.
Dr. Smilowitz said to do that they would have to “know what buses are maxed out by time or number of students.”
Dr. Goren said, “There may be different ways to look at this, such as making the routes more efficient. Then we may – or may not – be able to offer an available seat.”