A critical error in Leon County Schools’ transportation software caused bus routes to change and buses to be late in dropping students off so far this week. Ryan Dailey sat down with district spokesman Chris Petley, who broke down why the problems occurred – and what the district is doing about it.
Giving an update on what went wrong with transportation in the first school days of the year, district spokesman Chris Petley began chronologically, explaining the problems with EduLog software.
So we've had a relationship with EduLog software really since 2008. They did GPS monitoring and other work for us within the school district. So we were able to track our buses, a big project. We started last year, last November, to help transition our buses to really be a little more transparent, to know who rides our buses, to get it to marry with our student information system. So that process began back in November 2018, and we started communicating with the parents. We sent home letters letting them know that there would be changes to the transportation system.
But, as Petley explains, a critical gaffe got in the way.
Last week, we were waiting for our stops to be released to us from EduLog, and there was an accident. So, they accidentally deleted our file Monday, August 5th. That was set to be the first time that anyone on our side was able to start seeing the routes and the bus stops themselves. They worked diligently, they threw resources at it, but they were finished with 98% of the file by Wednesday evening.
So that was the first time that we saw the stops and really that we could immediately push it out to our parents. Automatically our parents are on the defensive and they're, you know, a little bit stressed that it's just a couple of days before school and they're seeing the stops. But at the same time, the stops were modeled by a computer, and it was designed to be efficient.
That hope of efficiency quickly dissolved.
When you looking at Google maps, sometimes you might know that better route. And our drivers are the same way. So they began driving the routes on Thursday and drive it on Friday and Saturday and Sunday. And we were getting feedback all throughout the process that, you know, maybe there was a better way to go, or some of the routes had them going down streets that buses really shouldn't go on.
Petley says the district was trying at the time to adapt, and update bus stops.
So I think what led us to Monday - we put in 12, 14, 15 hour days, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, just hoping to get everything where it needed to be. But I think in the end what happened was, based on those computer modeled routes, our drivers were asked to do too much in too little time.
So when you started bringing folks home on in the afternoon yesterday, if a Leon route was 30 minutes behind, it would then push, say, the Chaires route, 30 minutes behind. So now you add that together and by the time they get to, let's say, Fairview Middle, they're an hour plus behind. So it just was a cascading effect of, really not to trivialize it, normal first day, getting to know where you're at. But, since our buses drive through all three tiers of our systems, it cascaded. And there were middle school buses out on the road, at 5 p.m., and that's when the superintendent looked at the system and just realized we needed to stop this
Then, on Monday afternoon, Superintendent Rocky Hannah advised parents of bus riders who could, to drive their kids to school.
So really what we did is, we spent all night (Monday) night working to look at these routes again and see where can we combine routes, where can we separate routes so we can take some of that time off of our drivers. Now I know that the phones are still ringing over here (in the district offices). They're not ringing as much as (on Monday) - whether or not that's because parents chose to drive their students, or it's the drivers just kind of getting better at their routes, or more comfortable with their routes - probably a little bit of both. But we're confident that we're going to fix this.
We're going to continue to change the actual routes, and it'll get back to as close to normal as possible. I think it's also important to note, the company (EduLog) tells us that more than 90% of the stops that were there last year are still there this year, when it comes to individual stops. But that leaves 10% of the stops. And when you're looking at 3,100 stops, 10% of that is still 300 stops. We understand that, and we know that there's not just one person at some of those stops. So that impacts a lot of people. But the compressed timeline of trying to fix all of that between Wednesday and Monday, I think, caught up with us a little bit.
Despite understanding the frustration of parents and others, Petley says safety is still the district's top priority.
I’m a working parent. I understand that I have to be at work at a set time and, a lot of our parents do the same thing. They can't wait around to make sure they can bring their students to school. So we've opened up our daycare centers and our childcare centers, to hopefully allow some flexibility for working parents. We are at least keeping that through this week.
We hope that that's able to help give some peace of mind to some parents. We will let (the community) know on a week by week basis. We know it's definitely going to be through the end of this week.
Regarding the software company, EduLog, Petley did not have a definitive answer on Tuesday as to whether the district will continue to contract with the company going forward.
I think we’re in a posture of fixing the bike while we're riding it. And we still kind of need each other to get through this process. We will work together over the next days, and in a couple of weeks as we fix this, see where we end up.