LAND O’ LAKES — The first two weeks of school tend to be bumpy ones for school buses.
In the past, late-arriving buses and a lack of communication left parents fuming while the Pasco County school district’s transportation department tried to work out first-of-the-year kinks in the system.
This year, the district plans to try something different. For those first two weeks of school, a call center staffed with volunteers will field phone calls from confused or irate parents and try to provide information to set them at ease.
The district held training sessions this week for the 150 people who will take on that task.
“Parents in the past had no way of communicating with anyone,” said Ray Bonti, the district’s executive director for support services. “So this is a huge first step.”
The call center operators won’t be able to pinpoint the specific location for a bus, but using a computer application called MyBusLoop they can provide parents such information such as whether the bus left the school behind schedule and whether a particular student boarded.
Tad Kledzik, a transportation services supervisor, jokingly referred to the system as “the poor man’s GPS.”
MyBusLoop can be accessed by the call center operators but not by parents. Essentially, it works like this: When a bus arrives at or departs a school, the information is recorded into the MyBusLoop system. That way, a call center operator can call up the information and see, for example, that a particular bus left Connerton Elementary 15 minutes late.
Bus rosters also are in the system, and students’ names are checked off via an iPad as they board. That allows a volunteer to quickly confirm for a parent whether a child boarded the bus.
The district has set up three phone numbers for the call center, one for each of the area codes in Pasco County. Those numbers are (813) 794-2500; (727) 774-2500; and (352) 524-2500.
The school district’s transportation system is a big one. About 37,000 students are bus passengers each day, and the buses travel a total of 42,000 miles a day.
The call center operators won’t be able to solve every problem. Transportation route specialists and supervisors from the district’s exceptional student education department will be on hand to assist with questions that can’t be answered with MyBusLoop.
The operators also will have “caller worksheets” in which they can jot down information from callers who bring up issues that someone may need to solve later. Transportation officials hope those issues will be a distinct minority.
“We are shooting for 90 percent of the problems to be solved here,” Kledzik said.
The training sessions gave the volunteers — most of whom are district employees or parents — an overview of the MyBusLoop system, with sample questions for them to try to answer, such as “How can I contact Wiregrass Ranch High School” or “My child attends Bayonet Point Middle School and I have no clue what his bus number is. Can you help?”
They should be able to assist because the system includes entire student rosters for schools, so a volunteer could search for a name and find a student’s bus route. Also, telephone numbers for every school are in the system.
The call center launches on the first day of school, Aug. 18. Morning hours will be 6:30 to 10 a.m., and afternoon hours will be 2 to 6 p.m.