School days in Webster Parish will begin no earlier than 8:20 a.m. as a result of changing bus routes to accommodate for consolidation of schools.
"We are in the process of redoing our bus routes, because of all the changes to the school system," said W.R. "Buster" Flowers, supervisor of transportation and school security for the Webster Parish School Board (WPSB). "We have some challenges ahead."
Some challenges may include delayed start and end time of the school day.
"As of right now, we are looking at no school in the parish can start before 8:20 a.m., because we will have to pick up children earlier than what we are picking up right now," Flowers said, noting the earliest routes will not be picking up any earlier than in previous years.
The earliest route begins at 6 a.m in Shongaloo.
"That route is expected to take 90 minutes from the time the bus picks up the first child to the time the bus drops off at Shongaloo school. Then it will pick up kids being shuttled to Springhill," Flowers said, "Shongaloo has always had the longest route."
At this time Flowers could not say if the later start time would affect the end time of the school day.
"Someone will have to get with me and go over what time each school can let out, depending on the school's start time," he said.
Flowers has redrawn bus routes to reflect changes in attendance zones, school closures and reconfiguration of schools.
"We hope to lose two buses and save some money in transportation," he said. "We won't know for sure until we run the routes and get the actual list of students riding the bus."
According to Flowers, state law outlines how many students can be transported on a bus and before the routes can be finalized they will need to be run for a minimum of 30 days.
"The number of kids is based on how many students can sit per seat and remain behind the protective barrier," he said. "For high school'ers it may only be one or two per seat. For pre-schoolers, you might get three or four per seat."
"So it depends on the size of the butt," board member Frankie Mitchell said.
If the buses are found to be overloaded Flowers said he is required by law to make changes.
"We are asking for 30 days of operation to see what the actual numbers for each route will be," Flowers said. "We can then make adjustments and see what buses have space available to pick up students along the bus route that are inside walk zones. But we need to see what space is available before we commit to saying we can pick up students along a route."
According to Superintendent W.W. "Butch" Williams, walk zones can be no more than one walking mile to the nearest school. Students who live in a walk zone must walk to the nearest school, or have a guardian drop the student off at a school of their choice. Additional shuttle routes will be available this year to compensate for changes made to elementary schools in Minden and reconfiguration of schools in north Webster.
"We are not able to transport every child from home to school and back, so we have to have walk zones especially in the cities of Springhill and Minden," Flowers said. "We also have walk zones in Cotton Valley, Sarepta and Doyline.
"Lakeside/Central and Shongaloo do not have walk zones because they are on highways," he continued. "Walk zones were established in 1993 or '94 and will remain in place. Students who reside in a walk zone must walk to the school they are zoned for if they wish to utilize bus transportation."
According to Williams and Flowers, if a student is zoned to walk to Harper, they can walk to Harper or have a parent take them to Harper and catch a bus to Jones, Richardson or other Minden schools. Parents can also drop multiple students off at one school and each student catch a bus to the school the student attends.
With Stewart Elementary now closed, students who were previously zone to walk to Stewart will now be picked up at a location within walking distance.
"We will probably pick up on corners, rather than where the school was," Williams said. "If we have students congregate there, we would have to hire a cross walk and security guards. I think we are better off running a bus through the zone and have pick-up points on both sides of Shreveport Road."
Parents of students in walk zones are asked by Flowers to give the new bus routes at least 30 days of operation before asking to have their children picked up. Flowers also said bus passes will be available two weeks before school begins. Parents are asked to pick up passes at schools and make sure information, such as address, is correct.
"Go pick that up from the schools, and if anything such as an address, phone number or whatever else has changed give us a call so we can update it and get the routes changed," Flowers said. "Parents will also be able to look up bus information online at the parent centers as soon as we get it back on line. Right now, the system is down until updates can be made that will include the new school zones and boundaries."
The bus routes discussed will not affect special needs or handicapped students.