Instead of glossing over miscellaneous status updates or “liking” funny videos on Facebook last week, former Keyes Parent Teacher Club President Sandy Yoppini’s scrolling came to an abrupt halt in response to a picture posted by a Pitman High School student who resides in Keyes.
Taken in one of three buses used to transport students who live in Keyes to and from Pitman High, the picture captured a crowded moment in time wherein students filled up all available seating on the bus, leaving many riders overflowing into the aisle and onto the floor.
“I immediately told her to text me and tell me what was going on. She asked if I might be able to help them out,” said Yoppini.
It didn’t take long for Yoppini to repost the pictures on the Facebook page, “Keyes City News,” where she encouraged parents to reach out to the Turlock Unified School District and students to continue taking photos to document the bussing issue.
Through keeping in touch with the students throughout the week, Yoppini learned that riders attempted to mitigate the crowding themselves by squeezing onto the seats or having the bus driver assign riders to a seat—both of which proved unsuccessful.
“They need to provide another bus for students to allow them to be properly seated to and from school,” said Yoppini.
According to TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto, the average number of students who utilize the buses from PHS to Keyes every day is 177 students, with each bus carrying an average of 45 students at a time.
Taking into consideration an average of 45 students per bus, it would appear that each bus is actually under capacity as the District reports that one bus is able to hold 84 students and another bus is able to hold 56 students.
Additionally, as of Friday, the District substituted in a bus with the capacity to hold 90 students in lieu of a smaller bus to address the area of concern. However, this effort fell short according to Yoppini.
“The kids say they provided a slightly longer bus today, but it still isn’t big enough,” she said.
“I know the District’s position is concerning capacity, but capacity isn’t really the issue,” continued Yoppini. “You can say we can have 84 kids on the bus, but if they’re not properly seated, it is not legal. I think safety comes before legal capacity.”
Students report that the issue first arose when the District eliminated one bus earlier this month. According to Da Marto, this decision was made in response to a shortage of bus drivers.
“We are working very hard to hire additional personnel,” said Da Marto.
One way that the District is hoping achieve this is by increasing bus driver hours of work up to two hours for a total of six hours per day.
“Due to budget constraints and in looking at our history and data, it appears that starting back in 2008 through attrition, the District began hiring bus drivers with reduced contracts—taking their hours from six hours down to as low as four hours,” said Director of Human Resources Jason Maggard.
According to Maggard, the two-hour increase that was approved by the TUSD Board of Trustees during their last meeting will help the District maintain its goal of attracting and retaining highly qualified employees.
The increase is effective immediately, with all bus drivers expected to work these increased hours by the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year.
“When we were having tough times and budget cuts, we took these hours away and now we can afford to give them back,” said Trustee Harinder Grewal. “By giving a few hours back to these employees, it means a little bit more income for them and for those families and it’s also going to attract and retain more employees.
“It’s a win-win to me,” continued Grewal.
While the hiring of additional personnel won’t happen overnight, Da Marto ensures that if there proves to be an overloading issue on a bus, the District will assign another bus to take the overload. If the overload continues, the route would be looked at and split or a 90-passenger bus could be used.