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Officials hint at changes to school bell times, special education reform following BPS busing report


Getting to school before the bell rings is still not a guarantee in the city.

BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper says the district buses had 93% on-time performance last month, nearing the states mandated 95% benchmark and up from 88% reported in November.

Transportation, school leaders agreed this week, will require innovation — from potentially controversial alterations to schools’ schedules to new data collection and route efficiency measures.

“We know that in multiple areas of transportation … we have a long way to go,” Skipper said at this week’s school committee meeting. “But we’re really encouraged by the progress.”

An outside report by the Great City Schools — which follows a similar 2020 report on busing — comes as the district is actually inching toward mostly functional bus performance.

Going forward, the superintendent announced, a new Transportation Advisory Council made up of students, parents and BPS staff will serve as “a sounding board for transportation issues.”

One issue brought up by the report receiving special attention is revamping the disorganized school start times — a proposal that was previously brought up and stomped down by the public five years ago.

“The BPS routing system has 24 different morning bell times, 20 different midday bell times and 29 different afternoon bell times, which really must be coordinated between both BPS and non-BPS schools,” said Raymond Hart, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools.

Because BPS transportation serves BPS and other schools, Mayor Michelle Wu said looking at syncing bell times is a “very complex operation.” Though the schools are supposed to currently operate under a three-tier schedule, Hart said, not all schools adhere to it.

The district is aware that even a 10-minute change to start times can affect families “drastically,” Skipper said.

“With any change that impacts families, we’re going to have a process and we will do a lot of communication,” said Skipper. “I think this is an area we’re looking at.”

The report’s top recommendation, Hart noted, is data collection to help understand “key areas like walk-to-stop distances, average ride time, pickup times, busloads and seat utilization.”

This sort of information collecting, which means a substantial process of adding new technology and trainings, may help the district restructure routes more efficiently.

The report also brought up issues with special education and bus monitors, which have seen an increasing shortage as students in the district requiring a monitor have increased by 70% in just the last five years.

Under the current system, Hart said, certain buses may end up with several monitors while there is a shortage on others.

“So that communication between special education and transportation on assignments is critical,” Hart said.

The report listed additional proposals, including cost-saving measures — BPS currently has among the most expensive school district transportation in the country — and facilitating communication with other urban school districts.

“We are going to continue keeping at this,” Wu remarked Thursday. “How much time a student has in the classroom influences everything else.”

BOSTON MA. - JANUARY 10: Boston Public school buses lined up outside Orchard Gardens school on January 10, 2022 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
BOSTON MA. – JANUARY 10: Boston Public school buses lined up outside Orchard Gardens school on January 10, 2022 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)


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