School transportation is a hotly debated issue. It concerns the safety and security of students and it severely impacts parents who have to find a reliable means to shuttle their children to and from school, usually before heading off to work.
The stakes are high and lend themselves to the kinds of potentially combustible choices that every school administrator hates to make. Whether your district is considering slightly altering a longstanding bus route, or reducing its vehicle fleet in the wake of budget cuts, public comment is critical to your decision.
In California, administrators at the San Dieguito Union School District are preparing a survey to ask parents whether the school system should eliminate bus service for students. A story in the Encinitas Advocate cited declining ridership and rising costs as major concerns.
In Maine, school board members in Portland, the state’s largest city, recently threw their support behind a proposal that would allow high school students to ride city metro buses to and from school. A story in the Portland Press Herald said the proposal, which includes the formation of a taskforce to study the idea, aims to reduce the cost of transportation by providing students with discounted fares on city buses. It also would allow the district to experiment with different start and end times at its high schools.
But not everyone is thrilled with the proposal. At least one parent wrote an opinion piece in the Herald urging caution with the plan. Rather than move forward with a full-scale effort, the parent suggested a pilot project to test the program’s effectiveness.
“At this point, to rush into this program and change the daily school schedule to accommodate it would be irresponsible,” he wrote in the paper.
Taking the pulse
When it comes to transportation policy, there is no such thing as total satisfaction. Somebody, somewhere is going to disagree with your decision. But that doesn’t mean the conversation has to escalate to the point where parents are writing the paper or petitioning the local school board to reverse your thinking.
Administrators in San Dieguito were on to something when they opted to survey parents ahead of changes to the district’s transportation policy.
As calls for transparency and accountability in the nation’s schools continue, community and stakeholder engagement are among the top priorities for school administrators. It’s important to engage parents and others on important changes to curriculum and testing policies, for instance, and many schools have already put in place solutions to foster better dialogue between the school and the community.
With a little customization many of these same tools can be leveraged to help inform important decisions in other areas of your organization, including your transportation policy.
Looking for ideas about how to use your existing community engagement tools in new and unconventional ways? This resource can help.