The 2017-18 school year appears to be off to a much smoother start in an important area: bus service.
After parting ways with First Student as its transportation provider on account of persistent problems with consistency and staffing, the Shawnee Mission School District’s board of education and administration are giving high marks to the performance of its new contractor as the school year gets under way.
At last week’s board of education meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support Rick Atha cited a number of examples of improved service offered by the new bus company, DS Bus Lines. During the first few weeks of school, as families are getting used to their new routines, it’s not uncommon for students to show up late to their bus stops and miss their ride to school. To address this issue, DS Bus Lines positioned 12 vehicles throughout the district footprint and had them on call to pick up students who missed their bus and deliver them to school.
“This proved to be a great strategy that helped both students and drivers acclimate to the start of school,” he said.
When a plumbing issue the first week of school at Trailwood Elementary necessitated the relocation of students there to another building for the remainder of the day, the company was able to get 11 buses on site within 20 minutes.
In a lengthy presentation to the board last week, DS Bus Lines executives committed to delivering a high level of service to the district and to continuously evaluating its practices over time. President Scott Kincaid said the company had worked hard to make the transition of bus providers as smooth as possible for the district, no small feat considering it required the on-boarding of 300 new employees over a three month period as well as the delivery of 226 buses, many of them new, to serve the routes. Kincaid said he believes the start to next year will be even better.
“We’re going to have a whole year of additional knowledge, a whole year of getting to know each other, and a whole year of, ‘You know what? We can do better,'” he said.
The improved service does come with a cost, though. The district awarded the five-year contract to DS Bus Lines in February despite the fact that its bid was more than $500,000 greater than First Student’s.