Late Buses and the Quest for Information

Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) is proposing a change in bell schedules for the 2018-2019 year that have a variety of impacts. Some of those impacts were explained in the discussion on HCPS Bell Schedule Focus Groups.

Below are a couple of points from Superintendent Eakins’ YouTube “Bell Schedules Explained”2:

“At the heart of this decision is the need to secure appropriate instructional minutes for our students.” (:26)

“…we don’t allow enough time between our high school and elementary bell times to allow students to arrive on time…” (:49)

The morning start times between high school and elementary school only allow 27 minutes for buses to drop-off students at a high school and then pick-up students to drop-off at an elementary school. This time period between the start time of school types (e.g. elementary, middle, and high) is called “elapsed time”.

Where is the supporting data?

Indeed, 27 minutes is short, but is it a problem at every school? It appears that not all elementary schools are affected by these chronically late buses. 

How do we know the primary reason for late buses is the 27 minute elapsed time? Is it because it just seems too short?

When an elementary school does not have late buses there could be reasons – maybe that school bus driver only has one stop on their route. Maybe 27 minutes is all the driver needs for that segment of their run. But without enough evidence or data from HCPS, it is hard to know for sure.

This is an operational problem, involving logistics and optimization. To fix it, you need data to answer “what is the fundamental cause?” Lots of things can hide a cause, while leaving inefficiencies in place or creating other undesirable side effects (unintended consequences). Data, reports, and/or analysis of the data would provide insight. Here are a few questions that could help determine the cause for late buses:

• Why bus was late (e.g. driver absent, bus won’t start, etc.)
• How late was each bus?
• Where was the bus parked overnight?
• What school was impacted?
• Was there a substitute available for a missing driver?

Correlation does not imply causation; so just because an elapsed time of 27 minutes may seem short does not mean it is the variable causing most of the chronically late buses. It may contribute or be correlated but that does not mean it is the cause. Read here for more on that topic.

Outside of the Gibson Consulting Group, Inc. (Gibson) Reports, information about late buses has been hard to acquire in a public way.  For instance, GPS data would be invaluable in answering many of these questions; it would help to determine and validate the cause of late buses.  Yet, when reviewing publicly available communications (emails, charts, videos, etc.) there appears to be no report(s) summarizing data that support how the cause of late buses was determined.  Was the time allocated between school bells (elapsed time) for the bus driver determined to be the fundamental cause?  How were reasons such as driver absences, maintenance issues, location of buses overnight, and lack of driver substitutes excluded or ruled out?  There are a lot of general statements that refer to the problem (late buses) and factors that may be related, like time between bells.  This lack of operational data in HCPS communications might lead one to feel that due diligence for this proposed bell schedule change was not adequately performed, while the impact to individual families may be significant.

Gibson, who was hired by HCPS and performed an Educational and Operational Efficiency Audit between January and September of 2016, explains that “GPS tracking is primarily used at the beginning of each year to verify driver routes and paid time.”  Gibson goes on to explain that “…the Department is working to implement a link between vehicle GPS units and the routing and scheduling software…” and that “Real-time use of GPS will enable more effective communication with parents and district staff” (1, p. 144).

Also explained in Gibson’s Phase II Report is that:

Several HCPS division leadership positions do not require technical experience, training, or licensure in the function overseen.  The operational leadership positions are generic, and state a preference for teaching or general public administration experience instead of specific technical requirements.  (1, p. 8)

They continue by pointing out that requirements for “licensure in specific trades” are missing from maintenance area job descriptions.   Gibson states “HCPS job descriptions need to be upgraded to ensure that the positions require the technical expertise and experience needed to execute the job duties (1, p. 8).”

Imagine how insightful it would be to have the data to answer: Would buses still be late (when comparing to the set of current delay times) even with the increase in elapsed times?  If yes, then how often might they still be late?  If no, then it might be masking the two problems Gibson Consulting Group identifies, to be discussed in the next post.

Note: A public records request has not been submitted here, however, with the board meeting on Tuesday that doesn’t leave much time for answers.

1Gibson Consulting Group, Inc., Phase II: Operational Efficiency Audit – Comprehensive Report for Hillsborough County Public Schools

2“Bell Schedules Explained”,

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