Mike Pierce, USD 490 transportation director, updated the Board of Education on the transportation plan

As the date draws near for students and teachers to move into the new El Dorado Middle School, final plans are being worked out on the details to make that a smooth transition.

One of the major things that goes along with that is getting all of the students to the new school.

Mike Pierce, USD 490 transportation director, updated the Board of Education on the transportation plan to get students to the new middle school.

One of the biggest changes with the new routes is the old middle school will no longer be a hub, like it had been in the past.

Those students who used to get on or off the bus at EMS will now be picked up at Skelly Elementary, the old Washington Elementary building, a stop on Race Street, and a new stop at Forest Park so students don’t have to cross Sixth Avenue, or a new stop at Quail Ridge Apartments in the south part of town.

The goal was students would not have to cross Central, Sixth or Main to get to a bus stop.

There also will be more students riding the bus, although they don’t know exactly how many more.

“Just because of the nature of the way we were doing things before we didn’t have a good handle on who was riding the bus and how often,” Pierce said. “Now we have a better handle on it, at least for the middle school.”

Pierce said where the current middle school is allowed even more students than he thought there were to walk to school.

The current bus system is described as more of a public transportation route where students can get off at any point in the route. The new system will be a point to point route.

To find out what the needs would be, staff called all of the EMS parents.

Of the 415 students enrolled at the middle school, 294 have said they will ride, although Pierce expects that to increase after a few days of their parents driving students to school, especially if they have to get to work in Wichita.

There will not be any changes for early childhood students who will still be picked up door to door with the same routes. The rural routes also will remain the same, with only slight changes, including two routes and combing them into one. Pierce said even with this it was their goal students wouldn’t be on the bus any longer than an hour. While there are not a lot of kids in the northern route, the distance is the issue.

They also will be picking students up at the high school to take them to the middle school.

“We don’t want to send them cross country and we sure don’t want them walking on a state highway,” Pierce said.

Superintendent Sue Givens said that was critical right now until the sidewalks were in to the new school.

There also will be a separate bus for elementary students, as well as buses for middle and high school students.

“Our goal was not to have any kids dropped off until about 7:10 a.m. and that is the north route coming in,” Pierce said. “Most will be dropped off at 7:15 with none later than 7:35 so they can get to breakfast.

“This is definitely a work in progress. Every day we come up with something else.”

Pierce said right now they have enough resources to get this done. They had added two buses, which the district currently, had and are using the current staff.

One challenge they are having is finding more bus drivers and they are encouraging people to apply.

An area that is posing a problem right now is the activity route.

“We have used all of our resources to get this done,” Pierce said. “We have few spare buses left after this, and I don’t have any drivers. My scariest part right now is I’m going to be able to cover this deal for routes, but I’m not going to be able to cover activities. They’re (drivers) just not there. I don’t think we are the only district that is lacking in drivers.”

He said the plan is a work in progress.

Once the plan is finalized, a hard copy of the pick up locations and times will be sent to parents in the districts, as well as doing phone calls to inform parents and putting the information on the district Web site.

Norm Wilks, director of fiscal and support services, said they haven’t changed a whole lot in their budget to accommodate the new routes.

“Quite frankly it will be a budget improvement when we get to next [school] year because of the number of students who will be beyond 2 1/2 miles will increase so there will be additional transportation weighting for the general fund to help pay for that,” he said.

Students will start at the new school in January.

Julie Clements can be reached at jclements@butlercountytimesgazette.com.