The Princeton School District is making some changes in its after-school busing to reduce the length of time in the longest bus rides.
Tim Wilhelm, manager of the Palmer Bus office in Princeton that serves the district, and Superintendent Julia Espe talked about it this summer.
Both said that the changes are meant to be a short-term fix until the planned new K-2 elementary opens in late 2016 on the city’s north end.
The bus changes include having one school bus just drop off in-city students at the end the school day and dedicating four buses for only rural students.
The modified bus routes will begin after the transfers have been made at the middle school at the end of each school day. Buses will still continue to pick up students at the high school and two elementary buildings after school and bring them to the middle school. There, the students transfer onto the necessary buses to go home.
The bus rides into school are much quicker than the ones home because dropping off kids is speedier than boarding, Wilhelm noted.
Espe and Wilhelm noted that there had been talk about making some major busing changes right away this new school year, but they decided that it would be wiser to wait until the new school opens. It’s likely bus route changes will have to be made when the new school that replaces South Elementary opens just north of North Elementary. Making small changes now will mean not having “chaos” twice, Wilhelm said.
“We will put some Band-Aids on and do the best we can starting this year and look at bigger solutions later,” he explained.
Part of the reason a bus trip has been so lengthy for some Princeton Public School students, said Wilhelm, has to do with the bus transfer system. He explained that a student at South Elementary gets out of class at 2:40 p.m. and then gets on a bus to go to the middle school. Once at the middle school, the student makes the transfer and doesn’t get moving for home until 3:17 p.m. That’s 37 minutes of time before the student even gets on their way home, Wilhelm said.
Also, the same student could happen to live in the farthest corner of the school district, and so the bus ride becomes extra long.
The farthest locations out in the school district are the Santiago Township area to the southwest, Dalbo Township in the district’s northeastern part, and the area to the northwest at Estes Brook.
One reason there were city students on some country buses after school in the past was to fill bus seats, Wilhelm noted.
One more change that the Princeton district is implementing is how its school buses will stop along Highway 95. The buses will pull completely off the driving lanes and onto the shoulder and activate their four-way flashing lights, Wilhelm said. Those are the lower sets of flashing lights on the bus and do not include the far upper ones.
When all eight flashing lights are activated, including the upper ones, the law requires drivers to stop if they are either coming toward the bus or up from behind. They are then to wait until the flashing lights are no longer activated and the stop arm on the bus is no longer extended before they can proceed.
If a bus just has its four-way flashers going and the stop arm is not extended and the bus is pulled off the road, vehicles can be driven on the driving lanes past the bus.
The policy of pulling off the road and just using the four-way flashers is what all buses must use along all of Highway 95 from the St. Cloud area all the way to Stillwater, Wilhelm noted. The policy was planned in concert with the State Patrol, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and multiple school districts so there is one standard procedure for Highway 95, Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm also noted that the buses will only be picking up or dropping off students on the right side of the bus so that they do not cross the highway.
Common sense and safe driving
Wilhelm reminds students that in cases where they do cross a roadway, such as in town, and the bus stop arm is extended and the bus’s eight-way lights are flashing, they should not cross the road until the bus driver signals them to do so. The bus driver has a better view to see if it is safe to cross, Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm’s advice for the driving public is to use common sense and drive extra carefully in areas where there are students.
Need more drivers
Wilhelm said he needs more bus drivers. Persons interested in this part-time job can call 763-631-5315 to inquire about details. Palmer Bus will do the training needed for someone to get the required commercial driver’s license with school bus and passenger endorsements. There are written and behind-the-wheel tests to take, plus there is a background check and the Department of Transportation physical exam.
It might be the right job for someone who likes youth, has the time and needs a part-time income, Wilhelm said.