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Students board a Black River Local Schools bus in Sullivan, Ohio,


where optimization has reduced routes.


dents. Shields said his district, which serves 25 cities, has over 400 homeless students transported in three vans, and two “suburban” vehicles, plus school buses, so six new vans have been ordered. Salem also shares the trans- portation of 100 students from neighboring districts. Nicole Portee, executive director of transportation for


Denver Public Schools and STN’s 2018 Transportation Director of the Year, has gained significant improve- ments in bus routing and cost savings with the guiding principle of, “Do more with less.” Rather than focusing on buying more buses and vans, Nicole advocates the concept of continual routes and “creative optimization.” She seeks to increase driver utilization by expanding the traditional morning-and-afternoon model into “continual” and “nonhome to school” routes. This allows drivers to accept mid-day field trips, plus guaranteed eight-hour workdays, for those who are interested. It also means higher hourly pay rates, paid holidays and vacations. Drivers can accept “the take” (bringing the bus to an event) and/or “the return” (bringing the bus back). They do enjoy that flexibility in their schedules. Portee said the first step she takes toward optimization


is “to formulate my overall transportation goals. What do I want to achieve? How can I realize it?” Then she reviews current resource allocation to ask if it


is effective? Can wasted time, money or hardware be elim- inated? “Definitely,” she said, and her numbers prove it. She provided the following questions that she said transportation departments should ask when it comes to optimization. “What are the district’s policies? Which stu- dents can ride which types of buses and when? What are our utilization percentages for this year and last year? Do


parents and students have freedom in choosing routes? What are the cost drivers? Is our existing plan the best? If not, what changes can we make in district policies?” By granting more choices and freedom to parents, stu-


dents and bus drivers throughout Denver, Portee said she has found that the numbers look better every year. Focus- ing on the needs of her clients, or the students, parents and her school administrators, improves utilization. Denver Public Schools has 399 school buses that serve


almost all of its 200 schools. When Portee analyzed the transportation of special-education students, she asked: “What is the number of eligible students? How many of them are actively using our services? Do these numbers justify our current allocations? Do we need to increase our hardware, or modify our policies?” She said she found that many vehicles were underused.


Special-education students were arriving at school by other means, or relocating. She began a public campaign to heighten public awareness of school bus capabilities in many parts of the city. In each area, her adjustments made significant gains in savings and optimization. Attrition was another factor. Students graduate and


leave school every year, and families leave Denver, which creates space for new students and families. “Are we accommodating the natural changes in demographics? I created a new document,” she said. “I call it transportation by numbers. We analyze the statistics from year to year, we look for hard facts and changing trends. Putting it all together, we arrive at a better plan and it seems to work.” Tom Burr, director of transportation at St. Paul Public Schools in St. Paul, Minnesota, has 270 yellow school bus routes contracted with four vendors, which includes


www.stnonline.com 25


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