Officials eye Carlmont High buses’ tardiness

High-school district leaders are pursuing long-term solutions to the transportation problems that caused Carlmont High School students to miss their morning classes earlier this year.

Consultants for the Sequoia High School District will begin to lay out some of their ideas tonight, including using computer software to streamline the district’s bus routes, parking buses in cheaper facilities and making sure the district has enough trained bus drivers to shuttle kids to and from school.

The district may also consider contracting with an outside agency to manage its transportation department when director Bill Jackson retires Dec. 31 — or contract out for bus service entirely, trustee Gordon Lewin said.

“We hired a consultant because we want to evaluate if it was more than just a personnel issue,” Lewin said. “Clearly, what happened this fall was not excusable and everyone realizes that … but we wanted to see if a bigger fix is needed.”

Angry parents and Carlmont officials told the district board this fall that the bus from East Palo Alto, about 11 miles away from the school, was late 14 out of the first 19 days of school. A combination of U.S. Highway 101 traffic and bus-driver shortages were blamed for the delays.

The district responded by hiring more drivers, buying new buses and picking up students 10 minutes earlier, efforts that seem to have prevented further student tardiness, said Ed LaVigne, chief business official for the district.

However, the district is spending $3.2 million per year on bus service for 550 high-school students, 425 grade-school students who receive transportation from Sequoia and an unknown number of special-education students, LaVigne said.

“That’s a lot of money — it’s about 3 percent of our budget,” LaVigne said. “So we’re asking about what kinds of things we should be looking at in order to make things more efficient and cost-effective.”

To that end, consultant Joe DiGeronimo has been talking with different agencies, including the Ravenswood School District, the San Mateo County Transit District and the city of East Palo Alto to explore the possibility of parking school buses cheaply on land owned by each agency.

While the district board expects to make some decisions about management of the transportation department by January, full restructuring of the department could take until the spring, DiGeronimo said.

The Sequoia High School District Board meets tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the district office, 480 James Ave., Redwood City.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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