LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jefferson County Public Schools has released the results of an audit of the district’s transportation system after bus route failures and delays marred the start of the school year.

What You Need To Know

  • Jefferson County Public Schools released an audit of its transportation system after a failed roll out at the beginning of the school year

  • Busing issues kept students from getting home until late in the night

  • The audit found JCPS failed to vet its contractors, who were also running over their expenses by hundreds of thousands of dollars

  • It also revealed staff were ignored when they tried to report problems with the new tranportation plan

On Aug. 9, 2023, the state’s largest school district rolled out new staggered start times that fell flat, with many students not getting home until late in the night and others dropped off far away from their correct bus stop.

The report from Prismatic Services, an education consulting firm, found one of the reasons for the major delays and problems was trying three initiatives to start the year. That includes the School Choice Initiative, which let families enrol students in preferred schools, the School Start Time Initiative, which staggered start times for schools to ease a bus driver shortage, and the Routing Optimization Initiative, aimed at improving bus route efficiency to let fewer drivers get students to school.

The audit found several major issues that contributed to the busing issues. It states as part of its deal with Alpha Route, the company behind the bus route software, JCPS paid for routing software that was previewed to transportation department staff, but limited training was provided. “JCPS staff was not able to use it to address problems it saw with routes prior to Aug. 9,” according to the report.

The report found major breakdowns in communication, including ignoring staff concerns about the plan and discouraging questions about the plan. It states the district “had difficulties both internally with communications across departments and externally with the school board and greater public.”

“Internally, not all the departments who should have been involved in initiative planning were at the table,” the audit said.

When interviewed for the audit, multiple staff members noted a “negative environment in the central office that discouraged questions and collaboration.” After the Aug. 9 busing issues, the report said some employees said they feared retribution for providing information to Prismatic Solutions.

The transportation audit found discrepancies in the details JCPS staff shared about obstacles that might affect a new transportation plan. Specifically, it noted the district ended the 2022-23 school year with 731 bus routes. In implementing the School Choice Initiative, the district projected it to require 100 to 125 additional routes. However, trend data showed JCPS would start the school year with 550 bus drivers. The report notes that prior to proposing any of the three initiatives, transportation staff was not “materially involved in their planning.”

With that in mind, the report asks if the school board would have approved all three initiatives for implementation for the 2023-24 school year.

Another issue detailed in the report was the performance of the contractors used by JCPS. According to the audit, the school district failed to seek competitive bids to design the initiatives and that it did not research its contractors. This was especially a problem with Alpha Route. “In the aftermath of Aug. 9, a news article reported that Cincinnati Public Schools and Columbus Public Schools had previously had problems in their attempts to implement AR solutions,” the report said.

It found Cooperative Strategies, the company that designed the school choice plan, went over $480,000 over their initial bid, with a current running total of $600,000. Alpha Route has also run up costs nearly $350,000 over their original contract, with a current running total of over $858,000.

The audit made several recommendations to improve the transportations issues, many of which it said the district could implement with “small dollar cost or some amount of work hours from existing staff.” They include reviewing options for school start times, reworking the bus routes from Alpha Route, provide better and documented information to the school board and public regarding major initiatives, and evaluate the potential for implementing greater bus depot use.

The one recommendation requiring major funding is the adoption of an integrated routing, GPS and camera system. Currently, the district relies on WebApps, which require transportation staff to switch between multiple applications to complete their routes. The recommendation would move the district to a single, integrated routing program that allows staff to use a single platform to perform their routes.

The platform could monitor student locations, create bus stops, incorporate stops into routes and change routes in real-time, with updates immediately visible to the entire transportation staff. The audit said implementing the software will likely require a minimum of one year.

For its review, Prismatic Services interviewed six school board members, collected data from the school district, completed 101 interviews, visited 32 schools to observe bus procedures and administered a principal survey that received 109 responses.

A representative with Prismatic is expected to be at the Jefferson County Board of Education meeting Tuesday, March 26 at 6 p.m., to go through the findings and answer questions.

Here is the full audit report from Prismatic Services.


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