School board focuses on district transportation, staffing updates


At last night’s meeting governing board members heard updates on both Maricopa Unified School District’s staffing and transportation.

The district now has a staff nearing 400 in number, including 20 administrators. According to Tom Beckett, human resources director, 93 hires have been made for this school year to date. Of that number 67 individuals were new to the district while 26 were brought back after the reduction in force. Of the 80 district substitutes, 18 are certified teachers.

Currently the district has an opening for a psychologist, not counting the open positions for the Turnaround Project funded by the recent Ak-Chin Indian Community $3.3 million grant. “We want to fill those positions as soon as we can,” said Beckett, “but we want to make good hires.”

“We also have an opportunity to get more candidates,” Beckett added, referring to the recent federal bill to bring teachers back to the classroom.

One of the district’s new hires was introduced by Transportation Director Fred Laguna.  Michael Connors from the Phoenix area is an SAE certified mechanic with an automotive service of excellence rating.

“Now that we have someone certified, work that has been very expensive for us can be done in-house. In the long run that will save a million dollars,” said superintendent Jeff Kleck.

Connors will be working in the new bus facility adjacent to the district’s administration building. The transportation department is in their new office, and the bus bays are completed. “We are very proud and excited for this year,” said Laguna.

Currently there are 19 buses for the high school, nine for elementary schools and four for after school programs. Approximately 3,300 students are bused by MUSD. This year high school buses are numbered and park in order; elementary buses do not use numbers, but colored placards instead. Buses are at a little over 50 percent presently. “We want to get to about 90 percent capacity,” Laguna said.

Issues with the Versatrans computerized routing system required re-entering data twice. “I’m proud of my staff who worked so hard to get it back in,” Laguna said. Staff also spent three days calling parents to verify addresses and phone numbers, hoping to alleviate issues like wrong bus stops being assigned or incorrect pick up or drop off times. If a child is not on the right bus and becomes stranded, a bus is dispatched to pick them up and take them to the correct bus stop or even to their home.

“Did we put this thing in place too late?” asked board president Geoff Goddard.

Versatrans input specialist Shannan White responded, “Maybe too early; it depends how you look at it. It would have been nice to have had a semester to work through the problems.”

The system is able to track where a child gets on and off a bus. It is designed to bring consistency and stability to bus routing. However, said White, “We won’t be doing changes daily to accommodate parent issues.” Some of those issues involve parents who change daycare providers often and want bus routes to accommodate those changes.

At present the shuttle bus program has 160 student riders; 130 of them are picked up at Butterfield Elementary. Shuttle pick up areas were established Aug. 4 by the district in response to parent concerns about children’s safety en route to and from schools due to the railroad tracks.

Goddard questioned why students could not walk to the nearest bus stop, which might be closer than the shuttle areas. He questioned “the logic of driving say three miles away rather than walking to the nearest stop a half mile away.”

Kleck expressed his belief that “students who have to come across the tracks become a safety issue and can be counted as eligible bus riders.” However, it will be the Auditor General who makes the final determination as to whether those students can be counted for transportation funding.

Photo by Joyce Hollis