More students on Calcasieu buses this school year

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, September 21, 2011

School bus ridership is up this school year in Calcasieu Parish, according to the Calcasieu Parish School System’s Bus Transportation Division.

“Our enrollment is up, for ridership, about 200 kids,” said Andy Ardoin, bus transportation division director. “That’s 200 students. And 200 students is a lot of students because we average about 50 on a bus. We’re constantly shifting ridership as population shifts.”

Ardoin said the division’s 392 buses carried 15,484 students a total of 4,286,160 miles in a nine-month span last year.

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Increased gas prices, Ardoin said, contributed to the division exceeding its budget last year for fuel consumption.

“We had put in about $800,000 for fuel per the transportation department. But when the fuel started climbing two years ago, the school board transferred money out of the general fund, and it’s about $1.5 million,” he said.

Ardoin said reductions are made to fuel costs based on how the division makes adjustments to bus routes.

“But if fuel goes up to $5 dollars a gallon, we’re still going to run buses. State law says that we have to transport students, one mile or greater, to school as well as to other programs.”

Field trips are another factor.

In addition to the aforementioned figures, Calcasieu Parish school buses provided students with 3,328 trips — 1,600 of those were for athletic events and 1,057 were field trips. Data from the 2010-2011 school year showed that for such trips, 4,271 buses rolled 210,454 miles and used $76,557.34 in fuel.

Ardoin said all school buses are Calcasieu Parish school system property.

“Many years ago, the drivers owned them. And the school system found that the expense of paying the mileage and maintenance fees was a lot more than us buying them and keeping them. We keep a bus for 20 years,” said Ardoin. “The buses are very reliable. We’re one of the few systems that keep a vehicle for 20 years. We keep them 15 years on a bus route and we keep them five years as a spare bus.”

Along with insulated ceilings, tinted windows, automatic transmissions and air-doors, newer buses are equipped with video cameras and child-alert systems.

“About 100 of the 300-plus buses have cameras on them. It’s a safety issue for disciplinary issues on the bus for student behavior. And also it helps to remind the driver to mind their ‘P’s and Q’s’,” Ardoin said.

He said the child-alert systems involve a button at the back of the bus, which must be pressed at the end of each driver’s shift. This is done in an effort to check for remaining students, damage to school property and items left on the bus that could include contraband.

“Every day is a challenge. We start our office at six in the morning, and we don’t leave until the last bus is finished,” said Ardoin. “So before school starts, we’re at work. And when schools close, we’re still at work. That’s just the nature of our beast.”