Fresno Unified’s solution to tardy students because of late buses includes adjusting bus route schedules for earlier pickups — even if it means students will be on campus ahead of their school’s start time, a veteran driver told GV Wire this week.
Stevan Fabela, shop steward for SEIU Local 521 and a longtime bus driver, said that officials at Computech Middle School and Edison High School in southwest Fresno agreed to allow earlier student arrivals. The new schedules will take effect Monday.
Parents of Computech students had complained that late-arriving buses were costing students as much as 40 minutes of instruction time daily, affecting both learning and teaching at the magnet school.
Both campuses were impacted by a new state law that took effect with the start of the new school year requiring later start times for middle and high schools so teens, whose circadian rhythms keep them awake later into the night, can get more sleep.
Earlier Arrival on Campus
Teens being bused to the magnet programs at Edison and Computech will have to set the alarm earlier due to the new bus schedules, Fabela said.
He added that the schools’ 8:30 a.m. start times will remain the same, but school officials agreed to let students arrive earlier. Previously, drivers picked a spot midway between the two campuses and let the middle and high schoolers off at the same time. Now drivers will let Computech students off first at their school and then head to Edison and drop off those students, said Fabela, who is among the veteran drivers serving on the FUSD Transportation Department’s new Routing Committee.
“The state law only says that the high schools are not to start before 8:30. It doesn’t say what time they get to arrive at school,” he said.
District Always Had Ability to Adjust Routes
Another shop steward, Adrian Villalobos, said the bus drivers’ labor contract has been unfairly blamed as a factor in the routing problems.
While it’s true that drivers with seniority were able to bid on their preferred routes prior to the start of the school year, the department has always had the ability to make necessary adjustments after the start of the school year, he said.
“Most of the routes our drivers bid on allows the district to add more stops to the route as needed because drivers have gaps of time in between so there’s nothing that prevents management from adding to existing routes or approving overtime,” he said in an email. “Establishing routes and start/end times are completely determined by management and fall under managements rights and our union can only advise on best practices from a bus drivers’ perspective.”
Making the new routes work will require flexibility on the part of the drivers, who are taking on adjusted routes, as well as schools and even parents, Fabela said.
Parents need to make sure their kids get to the bus stop on time so that buses don’t have to return to pick them up later, he said. And when parents call to complain that a bus missed a stop, the new GPS system that’s being installed on district buses will enable the district to verify whether that happened or not, Fabela said.
Drivers around schools also need to give buses enough room to maneuver so they can drop off or pick up students quickly and stay on schedule. A delay in leaving one school has a ripple effect on that bus’ schedule for the remainder of the route, he said.
Because of the delayed school start times, buses are on the road more during Fresno’s morning rush hour, which further complicates the scheduling, Fabela said.
More Money for Relief Drivers
The Routing Committee is only one of the changes that the Transportation Department has implemented. The district signed a “side letter,” or contract amendment, with SEIU that provides a 5% pay boost to drivers who can be categorized as “relief drivers” due to changes in their routes.
Fabela said he is encouraged about the department’s new management, which he says is welcoming input from drivers in addressing the problems that erupted this year.
The department’s director left in September after only six months on the job. In October the district hired Paul Rosencrans as manager.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to have the upper management that we have right now,” Fabela said. “I’ve been with this district for a little over 16 years ago, and although we’ve been close at times with management and the drivers and union have never been actually this close. This is actually a breath of fresh air, being able to come into the office and sit down and talk with Paul and be able to get things done … That’s been a great thing this year. That’s why we’ve been able to accomplish some things that we’ve accomplished thus far.”