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Ryan Johnson, Published November 12 2012

West Fargo buses filling, too

WEST FARGO – School officials here prepared for another enrollment boom this fall by adding three bus routes to keep up with an expected 350 new students.

But all the number crunching, housing construction analysis and planning had to be adjusted when about 550 new students showed up, said school district Transportation Director Brad Redmond.

“That’s 200 more students, and those students get scattered out throughout our 65 buses, and it increases the number of kids riding,” he said.

Redmond said officials are already planning for another enrollment gain next year, working on projections that will shape how the district will get its more than 8,000 K-12 students to and from school. To make up the gap between projections and the actual headcount this fall, he said the district shuffled its routes to ensure no buses were over their legal capacity.

The district owns and operates 50 buses and contracts with Valley Bus Co. for another 15 vehicles. District buses provided more than 1 million rides to students last school year and put an average of 3,200 miles on the fleet each day.

Redmond said he’s preparing to go to the school board in the next month with a request to buy more buses to keep up with another expected enrollment gain. But it’s not a fast process, he said.

“Buying a bus isn’t like going to a car lot and buying a car,” he said. “Each state has its own specifications that are minimum requirements that you have to meet.”

That means even if the district orders more buses this winter, they likely won’t arrive until the late spring or summer.

Another complication, Redmond said, is bus ridership varies from day to day and season to season. Most neighborhoods in the district average about 80 to 84 percent ridership for elementary students, he said, while only about 10 percent of high school upperclassmen take the bus.

Ridership tends to spike between sports seasons when students don’t have practice or games after school, he said, and the numbers often go down during the coldest months when parents drive their kids to school more.

And like this fall, coming up with projections about how many more students will need a ride to class the following year is more of an art than a science.

“It’s a lot of planning, and unfortunately, there’s a lot of guesswork involved,” he said. “Then we do tweaks after the school year gets started.”

Superintendent David Flowers said the district aims to budget for two students per seat, a more comfortable arrangement than the three-per-seat legal maximum.

There are times that goal can’t be met and three students sit together, he said, but the district ensures buses never go over their legal capacity and that all riders are properly seated.

“We have students who don’t want to sit with someone, so there’s room on the bus but the kid comes down the aisle and kids say ‘you can’t sit with me’ or that kind of thing,” Flowers said. “And if that happens to a great extent, then that’s a form of bullying, and we don’t tolerate that, either.”

Redmond said paraprofessionals occasionally ride on the buses, often accompanying a student with special needs or helping the driver monitor students’ behavior.

But Flowers said overall, the district isn’t seeing bus problems out of the ordinary.

“Yes, occasionally it does come to my level that there’s been a bus situation or a parent that complains because their child has been suspended from the bus,” he said. “It’s not unlike any other gathering of large numbers of children or adolescents that there are issues from time to time.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587


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