With the number of school bus accidents this school year outpacing those in each of the prior four school years, Lafayette school officials are looking at ways to improve safety.
And, with another budget deficit looming, they are also reviewing bus routes and school dismissal times to cut costs, said Transportation Director Damon Evans.
There are a number of factors for the increase in school bus accidents, Evans said Thursday, including the fact “that there are more cars on the road than five years ago.”
He said accident data are under review to pinpoint whether newer or more seasoned drivers have been involved in more accidents this school year and if those accidents are within high-traffic areas. The data will be used to target more safety training for drivers, he said.
Earlier this week, a school bus driver resigned following an accident in which he is suspected of drunken driving. The driver, John Harvey Bernard, 50, ran off the road and into a ditch on March 12. Bernard had 11 Katharine Drexel Elementary students on board at the time.
On Wednesday, Evans briefed School Board members on the training drivers are required to take and other assistance given to drivers.
Board member Britt Latiolais asked if the accident could have been prevented if there were warning signs of problems with the driver. At no point during the meeting was Bernard named, though Evans said the driver involved in the accident needs help and he hopes he receives it. Evans also said the school system provides assistance and resources to employees who need treatment or counseling for substance abuse.
Meanwhile, Evans said, his department is also reviewing its route system, and changes could be coming in the new school year, pending board action. In the next few weeks, he said, he hopes to provide some scenarios for the board’s consideration that could produce some cost savings or reduce the miles that school buses travel. One option under evaluation is whether changing middle school dismissal could alleviate some traffic and safety concerns.
“Right now, middle schools are letting out at 3:50,” he said. “It’s causing our afternoon routes to be 20 minutes longer. Anyone driving through Lafayette at 4:30 p.m. knows you’re going to be stuck in traffic. To get out at 3:20, that would save us 30 minutes worth of traffic and shorten routes time-wise.”
Evans said part of his department’s route review involves scenarios that exclude bus transportation to students who live within 1 mile of their zoned school and those students who attend schools out of their zoned areas through the schools of choice program.
Any recommendations will go before the School Board. As the board looks for ways to offset an estimated $15 million shortfall to the 2015-16 budget, any savings are worthy of serious consideration, Evans said.
“Nothing is off the table right now,” Evans said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.