Lafayette Parish students in specialized programs outside of their attendance zones may soon be walking a little farther.
The Lafayette Parish School System is undertaking a major overhaul of its bus routes in preparation for next school year.
The effort is driven in part by new attendance zones going into effect this fall, in part by the capabilities of better computer software for planning routes and in part by the need to cut costs.
All parents should be alert for tweaks in bus stop locations and times, but the most significant change will come for students enrolled in specialized Schools of Choice programs outside of their attendance zones.
The school system will still provide bus transportation for out-of-zone Schools of Choice students, but the stops will be fewer and farther between, said School System Chief Administrative Officer Joe Craig.
It's a change from what had been a trend of expanding options for out-of-zone bus transportation.
"It's expensive, so we are trying to trim that back somewhat and live within our means," Craig said.
He said the route changes are part of effort to cut $1.75 million from the school system's transportation budget.
Roughly 3,800 students who attend Schools of Choice programs outside of their zones rely on bus transportation at some point during the year, according to figures from the School System.
That means the bus route changes could impact more than one in 10 students in a school system with an enrollment of about 30,000.
"Out-of-zone Schools of Choice children will still have access to transportation, but we will be limiting the number of satellite stops for those kids," Craig said. "We won't be able to pass through a small subdivision like we used to. We are going to be locked into generalized, more central locations."
He characterized the change as substantial and dramatic.
Craig said the plan is to eliminate about 23 bus routes across the parish, down from about 290 routes.
"In zone, you will see some changes, but those won't be as noticeable," he said.
Broader changes, though, could be in the offing.
At a budget meeting last week, School Board member Justin Centanni proposed, among other changes, revisiting guidelines on the distance a student must live from school before receiving free bus transportation.
The current guidelines set a distance of 0.2 miles for elementary school students, 0.4 miles for middle school students and 0.6 miles for high school students, though exceptions are made for students living closer if there is a safety concern.
"That is certainly, in my opinion, a little too generous," Centanni said, noting that state law requires free bus transportation only for students living more than a mile away from school.
Centanni said the transportation department should also consider more centralized stops across-the-board.
"We want to have fewer bus stops and more children at each stop," he said.
Centanni said the changes he has proposed exploring could not feasibly be implemented before the start of next school year.
Craig said bus drivers should begin notifying parents of the new bus routes for next school year by late July or early August.
The school system also will set up a hotline for parents to call for route information, he said.