March 27, 2024

IPS is no longer automatically providing transportation to students

Empty school buses sit at the First Student, Inc. lot on Friday, March 22, 2024. - Enrique Saenz / Mirror Indy

Empty school buses sit at the First Student, Inc. lot on Friday, March 22, 2024.

Enrique Saenz / Mirror Indy
By Carley Lanich

Indianapolis Public Schools families whose kids ride the bus should double check that they’ve requested transportation for their students when they register this year.

The school district moved to an opt-in method of assigning bus routes last spring, IPS Chief Operations Officer William Murphy told Mirror Indy in a provided statement.

In past years, Murphy said, the district automatically provided bus stops and routes, regardless of whether students were actually using the service. That means the district provided routes for more than 19,000 children in recent years while about 3,000 of those students weren’t actually taking the bus.

This new method will allow the district to better track student attendance, by knowing who is and isn’t supposed to be on the bus, and to save time and money by consolidating routes where kids aren’t riding. It also comes with practical benefits, Murphy said, such as getting bus stop information to families earlier in the year and allowing drivers more time to practice their routes.

“Rather than getting your bus stop, time and route information the week before school, you are able to access it far earlier,” Murphy said. “In many cases, families can see their ‘most likely’ stop and route right now.”

How to opt in for bus service

IPS rolled out its new opt-in transportation system last spring as families registered for school because the district wanted to give families time to adjust to the changes without losing out on a vital service.

This coming school year, though, will be the first time students will go without bus service if they don’t tell the district they want it.

Over the last year, IPS staff have been working to get the word out about changes. Principals have called families and a transportation FAQ page is featured prominently on the district’s website.

The deadline for families to inform the district is July 1. This can be done by using a link to IPS’ PowerSchool program, which is provided after receiving a school assignment from the registration service Enroll Indy. More detailed instructions are available on the IPS website.

Murphy said about 4,500 families, representing a 24% response rate, already have opted in to bus service for the coming school year. That’s more than double the number of families who had opted into services by May of last year, Murphy said.

How does Rebuilding Stronger affect transportation?

The transition comes as IPS moves to new transportation zones next year established by the district’s Rebuilding Stronger plan. Under the plan, only students living in and attending school within the same geographic area of the district will be provided transportation.

However, IPS officials are granting a one-year reprieve and continuing transportation across zones as families adjust to new boundaries and school assignments.

Murphy said he expects that will lead to increased ridership next school year. The IPS Board of Commissioners approved a three-year contract extension with the district’s external transportation provider, First Student, last week to help see through a smooth transition. The extension includes a 4% annual increase in what IPS pays to the company for each route First Student provides to the district.

This year, First Student runs about 230 routes at a cost of about $45 million. Murphy told school board members last week that amount is an 8% increase over last year based on more frequent trips between schools to prepare for the coming Rebuilding Stronger transition. He anticipates the district could need as many as 270 routes next year during the Rebuilding Stronger reprieve period.

“We knew that this year and next year would be years of increased spending,” Murphy told commissioners last week. “But, it should settle down.”

Other transportation changes being studied

While Murphy said the change to opt-in services has mostly been a good thing. First Student, for example, has maintained a full staff this year at a time when other districts have struggled to provide drivers — and it appears IPS may still be working out some hiccups.

Commissioner Nicole Carey said during last week’s school board meeting that her children were routed to the wrong school when she opted in for transportation next year.

Murphy took notes as she described the incorrect information Carey said she received for her middle schoolers. He said the transportation department will continue to process route changes and is working to streamline the systems it uses for mid-year requests, such as for students who transfer in from another district or have safety concerns related to their assigned bus stop.

The district also is studying whether to change requirements for its IndyGo bus riders. Currently, high school students may be assigned an IndyGo bus route rather than the traditional yellow bus service if that city route will get the student to school without transferring buses.

Murphy said his team is now determining whether it’s feasible to allow one transfer between IndyGo buses on the way to school. If such a change were to happen, Murphy said it would be made optional to families as early as next school year and would need approval from IPS commissioners first.

More information on how to register an IPS student for transportation services is available online at myips.org.

Mirror Indy reporter Carley Lanich covers early childhood and K-12 education. Contact her at carley.lanich@mirrorindy.org or follow her on X @carleylanich.

Support independent journalism today. You rely on WFYI to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Donate to power our nonprofit reporting today. Give now.

 

Related News

Police left in dark about alleged abuse at IPS school, families question school culture
Lawsuit: IPS teacher encouraged students to beat up 7-year-old with disabilities
Indiana high schoolers can take free college classes this summer