The Regional School Unit 3 School Board voted to move to a single run bus route for the 2012-2013 school year in an effort to save money and reduce ride times for younger students.

The district operated a single run bus route from 1958 to 1989 but then switched to a two-tiered system, which involved dropping students in grades 7-12 at the Mount View complex before the buses went out again to pick up students in grades K-6.

“The board has been discussing moving to a single bus route again for about eight years and as revenues and enrollment continued to decline, it made sense to switch back,” Superintendent Heather Perry said. “We were looking for ways to save money that didn’t negatively impact student learning.”

Switching to a two-tiered system was done in an effort to decrease ride times for younger students but over time that goal was unattainable because students became more spread out as enrollment decreased.

“Since 1986 we have lost over 300 students,” Perry said. “The ride times for younger students continued to increase as the total number of students decreased, so the two tiered system made less sense.”

According to a report prepared for the board of directors, buses traveled a total of 490,000 miles for the 2010-2011 school year. By switching to a single-run route the total number of miles is estimated to decrease to 420,000 miles.

In addition to savings in total mileage, moving to a single bus route would also reduce ride times for elementary students to 40 to 60 minutes with a maximum ride time of 80 minutes, according to the report. Ride times for high school and middle school students would be between 60 and 80 minutes.

“Most of the elementary students will have a shorter ride and the high school and middle school will have ride times on average of 60 minutes,” Perry said. “Right now we have students at the middle school and high school who are picked up at 5:54 a.m. and making this change would mean those students don’t get picked up any earlier than 7 a.m.”

According to the report, students at Monroe Elementary School would arrive at 8 a.m. and be dismissed at 3:20 p.m.; students at Morse, Troy and Walker Elementary School would arrive at 8 a.m. and be dismissed at 3:15 p.m.

Students at Mt. View Elementary School, Mt. View Middle School and Mt. View High School would arrive between 8 a.m. and 8:20 a.m. and be dismissed between 2:50 p.m. and 3 p.m., according to the report.

The morning bus to Waldo County Technical Center would leave at 8:40 a.m. to arrive by 9 a.m. The bus would then leave WCTC at 11:10 a.m. to arrive at the high school by 11:30 a.m., the report says. The WCTC afternoon bus would leave the high school at noon and the return trip would leave at 2:30 p.m., so students could board the 2:50 p.m. bus from the high school.

School officials are anticipating adjustments will need to be made to the bus routes as students move into and out of the district. Transportation Director Raymond Shute said he makes changes to the bus routes on a daily basis by either adding additional time to the route or subtracting time.

“You can have a situation where you change a route and then have to change the route back all in the same day,” Shute said. “You also have situations where you have a student who lives at the end of a road near a town line and they may move and that means you don’t have to have a bus travel down that road anymore or vice versa.”

Perry also noted the district has a “transient population,” which requires numerous adjustments to the bus routes throughout the school year.

Reducing ride times is a positive effect of switching back to a single run bus route but Perry admitted there are some concerns from parents; especially mixing elementary students with high school students.

“One of the major concerns from parents is mixing older students with younger students, but we are working on mitigating those fears,” she said. “We will also work with principals to discuss behavior on the buses. We’re taking the rest of the spring to address those concerns,” she said.

A call to School Board Chairman Katherine Eickenberg was not returned as of press time.

The other potential issue voiced by parents concerned the impact the single-run bus route would have on students who attend Waldo County Technical Center. However, Perry said that issue has already been resolved as the district was able to work out a deal to allow students to arrive later and leave later.

Perry recommends parents continue to monitor the school district website at webserver.msad3.org/joomla/, where information and changes regarding bus routes will be posted.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or bholbrook@villagesoup.com.