After a long first day of school Wednesday, hundreds of students in Louisville, Kentucky, were stuck on school buses until almost 10 p.m. The school system announced a complete closure of schools Thursday, including canceling all extracurricular activities on the second day of school, because of what it called “transportation issues.”
Parents are outraged over Jefferson County Public Schools’ mishandled transportation nightmare—particularly in light of budget changes by the Board of Education that included a July raise of almost $75,000 for Schools Superintendent Martin Pollio, bumping his annual salary to $350,244.
Pollio’s big salary increase is in sharp contrast to the Jefferson County school district’s pay for bus drivers, which is $21.69 per hour.
The system doesn’t have enough school bus drivers, who received a 5% raise last year along with teachers and other full-time staff in the school district. As superintendent, Pollio got a 21.4% raise.
I was told to offer grace to JCPS this morning. There were children who did not get home from school until almost 10 o’clock last night. There were very young children dropped off at bus stops with no adult present very late in the evening. There were scared, tired, and probably hungry children who peed their pants while waiting to get home after the first day of school.
The people in charge knew months ago they would be transporting nearly 100,000 students all over the city yesterday. Rather than focus on that, they chose to spend their summer coming up with ways to skirt around a law that would protect children and parental rights.
Jefferson County system includes nearly 96,000 students in 172 schools. Louisville is the county seat.
The situation there is typical for large public school districts, Jason Bedrick, a research fellow in the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal, Heritage’s multimedia news organization.
“This is the sort of thing that happens when schools aren’t directly accountable to families,” Bedrick said, adding:
Administrators get fat pay raises even while unable to deliver basic services in a competent manner. Kentucky families deserve better. They should be able to choose the schools that work best for their children.
In addition to the disparate pay, parents and staff are livid over the lack of foresight to fix school bus routes after an entire summer of planning. At the end of the 2022-23 school year, school district officials agreed that bus routes must be rewritten to prevent delays amid a “driver shortage.”
Pollio released a “new plan” July 24 that he said would provide “more drivers than routes to essentially end the bus driver shortage.” This plan included a detailed computer model that reorganized bus routes to cover more ground per bus.
John Stovall, president of Teamsters Local 783, the bus drivers bus drivers union for Jefferson County school system, told local reporters: “Computers are great on certain things, but until you actually go out and drive the routes, you’re not going to know how it’s actually going to work.”
Several drivers had routes that almost tripled in length, Stovall said.
Nevertheless, Jefferson County Public Schools proceeded with the proposed computer model and went forward with the bus route plan on opening day Wednesday.
Pollio promised during a press conference two weeks ago that students wouldn’t have to wait for a school bus for “more than an hour, if that.”
The plan didn’t work.
Students were stuck on buses until 9:58 Wednesday night as the vehicles snaked through Louisville, dropping off students in a convoluted, confusing traffic pattern.
“I have three grandchildren in this system. It’s a nightmare—a horrible violation of public trust,” grandparent Susan Harkins wrote in a post on social media.
New reports indicate that the AlphaRoute software, used by Jefferson County school administrators to recalculate the bus routes, already had been tried by Ohio’s Columbus City Public Schools at a cost of $1.5 million. The Columbus school system stopped using the software last year after it caused increased wait times and other major issues.
Jefferson County Public Schools paid AlphaRoute at least $265,000 to recalculate bus routes for the 2023-24 school year.
“I will not offer grace to a school system that squanders $2.5 billion, fails to ensure the safety of students and teachers, and refuses to listen to parents,” Geoghegan told The Daily Signal in her email, apparently referring to the size of the annual budget. “As a former employee, volunteer, and PTA president, they lost my support in 2020.”
A spokesman for Jefferson County Public Schools did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment before publication time.
The full name of the school district was corrected shortly after publication of this article. This is a developing story and may be updated.
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