School transportation issues still being ironed out as students head back to class

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Leaders of Madison County and Madison City Schools each say this year's start is the smoothest they've seen in recent memory. Understandably though, it came with a few kinks as students, staff, and parents get used to the new school year.

In Madison County Schools, Director of Operations Dan Evans said they're working on reducing overcrowding on "five or six out of all 219 buses," and the first week is about constantly rebalancing the loads as they get better ideas about which students will be riding.

He recommended parents try to have children ready for pickup at the time they were told to be picked up to help keep buses on time.

Some traffic issues at Lynn Fanning and Madison Cross Roads Elementary schools are also on the radar, said Chief Operations Officer Kerry Wilkerson. He said the Madison County Sheriff's Office is already on hand at Pulaski Pike to help out with traffic, and they'll be alerted to Lynn Fanning next week to watch for traffic on Moores Mill Road.

Viewers alerted WHNT News 19 to the traffic problems on Pulaski Pike, which backs up as parents arrive to pick up students and wait in line on the road.  Russ O'Rear, principal of Madison Cross Roads, said that typically happens there at the start of the school year, but it's expected to die down next week.

"We have a lot of new students, so parents are learning the route, learning which way to go, we're making sure everyone has a car number and they're authorized to pick up children," he listed. "So it takes a little time."

He's confident once that learning curve is over, the traffic will get faster and the line, shorter.

"We have a really good system, it worked really well last year, and it's just going to take a few days for it to die down and for the kinks to get worked out," he explained.

He added that he knows it's difficult and frustrating, but steps need to be taken to make sure children go home with the right people and safety is a priority.

Over in Madison City Schools, transportation directors are still finalizing bus routes and stops based on the students who chose to ride the bus this first week.

"The biggest issue we had was just running the routes," said Roosevelt Carter, Jr, the school system's Transportation Specialist. "Just, identifying what bus stops will be."

He added that the drivers and parents did a great job, but some fine-tuning was needed this first week. Also, there were some complaints for several parents about the heat.

"The AC is working on the buses, but just with the number of kids on the bus sometimes it's still kind of hot," he admitted. But there is a plan to help, he said. "With the long-route buses, like the ones running Triana, we're looking at the possibility of supplying those buses with bottled water for the students. We hope that will help the problem."

Assistant Superintendent Robby Parker agreed that was a great idea.

"We look for next week to be better," said Carter, "because we've learned from this week some of the things we need to do."

Each school system's leaders stress patience, but also asked that parents continue to bring up any problems to them so they can work on making all students' experiences getting to and from school, the best they can be.