School bus transportation in the Lake Washington School District has been inadequate and incompetent for years and we all know it! How many times have students and parents come before the school board and complained that the buses are late, overcrowded or don't come at all. How many times have the television news stations done stories on our dysfunctional bus transportation system? And every time the board and superintendent do nothing to address the ongoing problems and valid complaints.
The Transportation Director claims that they can't find enough bus drivers - a lame excuse for not figuring out how to fix the department's poor planning and mismanagement issues. In response to the lack of bus service, parents put their kids in their cars and drive them to school. Our school zones become clogged with cars dropping off and picking up kids. Every day there is a giant traffic jam!
The District has 95 bus drivers - so there is no shortage of bus drivers. The District has 136 yellow school buses: 86 full-size buses that can carry 55-60 high school students or 80-90 elementary students. Additionally, the District has 50 half-length buses that can carry 36-40 students. These buses could drive multiple routes per day, picking up and dropping off students from elementary, middle and high school if they were planned efficiently. Our schools have staggered start times specifically intended to provide multiple bus routes per day. There is a significant amount of rider capacity available in the transportation department; however, it is not being used efficiently. The problem is that routing and planning is incompetent and inadequate. Current routes are illogical and inefficient - demonstrating that the planning staff have not had adequate training to use the GIS-based software that routes the buses.
Additionally, it should be noted that school bus transportation is considered to be part of basic education so the District should be doing everything that it can to help students get to and from school by providing school bus transportation or Metro bus passes.
State law (RCW 28A.160.160) says that STUDENTS WHO MUST WALK MORE THAN A MILE TO SCHOOL following existing roads and sidewalks are eligible for bus transportation and the State will reimburse the school district for the cost. The LWSD Transportation Department's website says that students must live more than 1-radius mile from the school for the district to provide bus transportation. What is going on here?
Historically, state law required students to live outside the 1-mile radius to be eligible for bus transportation. Our legislators realized that the 1-mile radius meant that students were walking far more than a mile, even up to 3 miles, so they changed the law to the 1-mile walk route. The law was changed in 2011 but the Lake Washington School District Transportation Department has not updated its policy in more than 8 years.
The District receives reimbursement for busing kids to school so by busing more students, the District will receive more transportation funds from the State. (In 2018-2019, the State paid LWSD over $11.6 million to bus students to school. In contrast, the Seattle School District with 53,000 students received $39 million because it buses far more students.)
A competent, well-run transportation department is a vital part of our school district.
The Transportation Director and Assistant Director need to be required to improve efficiency and to bus all eligible students or a new director needs to be hired. All of our students and families have suffered from incompetence in the Lake Washington School District Transportation Department. Our students deserve better.