Fine-tuning bus service in District 161 reduces complaints this year

A representative of the school bus company serving Flossmoor School District 161 was on hand at Monday’s Board of Education meeting to respond to parents’ complaints even though school district and bus company officials acknowledged that things are running smoothly as the school year entered its third week. 
 
After Superintendent Dana Smith indicated bus service is now operating well, P.J. Lewis, operations manager for Paige Bus Enterprises, was asked numerous questions about route changes and delays.
 
“I think it’s moving along,” Lewis said, adding that “there is always a little bit of uncertainty at the beginning of the year. There were late registrations, which had to be added to routes.”
 
Smith said the district will look into moving registration earlier in the summer to help avoid bus problems but warned that registration that’s held too early can cause staffing and other issues. Lewis said the later registrations have a negative impact on bus service early in the year.
 
The numbers indicate that there have been few complaints. A district official said only three calls were received, all during the first week. Lewis said her office has received just four calls, all of which pertained to Routes 36 and 39 serving Western Avenue School. Three parents brought concerns about bus service to the board meeting of Aug. 21.
 
“We serve 1,100 students every morning and 1,100 students every afternoon,” Lewis said.  “That’s 11,000 student passengers a week.” 
 
As for concerns about buses that are running behind schedule, Lewis said electronic bulletins are posted to parents and school officials immediately when delays are occurring.
 
Board President Michelle Hoereth asked Lewis, “What is different this year vs. last year?”
 
Lewis answered, “We have more single routes this year.” She also stated there are more paired routes with buses for elementary and Parker Junior High students.
 
Lewis added that the biggest difficulty now is getting students boarded on buses on time in the afternoon at Parker.
 
Regarding the bus routes for Western Avenue School, Lewis said the same driver from a year ago is still handling Route 36.
 
In at least one case, the parent of a kindergarten student requested a route change and Lewis said a stop was added.
 
Board member Stephen Paredes said, “The district decides what the routes are.”
 
Lewis told the board, “I think things have calmed down.”
 
In other business, the board heard an update on school funding in Illinois following last month’s passage of a bill designed to change the way districts receive state aid. The bill passed following months of a political standoff between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats.
 
Frances LaBella, assistant superintendent of business operations, said districts across Illinois are just starting to understand the newly-passed legislation.
 
“We now have a law,” LaBella told the board. “It’s pretty complicated. Details haven’t even been finalized yet.”
 
What seems clear, LaBella said, is that District 161 will receive “about $900,000” more than expected in its “Base Funding Minimum” which will reduce the projected deficit from $6.2 million to $5.3 million.
 
At the center of the new funding measure is an “Adequacy Target Based on Needs of Students.” LaBella said the law measures local financial capacity toward a district’s “adequacy target” compared to all districts in the state. The adequacy target includes 27 “essential elements” such as class sizes, allocations per student, central services, and additional money for diverse learners such as special education.
 
Also, another factor included in determining the funding of local districts is an analysis of salaries which are adjusted for regional wage differences.
 
“For example, Cook County salaries are 6 percent above the state average,” LaBella said.
 
A public hearing and adoption of the budget is scheduled for the next board meeting on Sept. 25.

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