Jefferson City Public Schools Superintendent Larry Linthacum has taken it upon himself to see firsthand how the district could improve its bus service — by putting his hands on the wheel of some of those buses.
JCPS Director of Communications Ryan Burns relayed Monday that as far as First Student knew, Linthacum was the only superintendent of the 496 districts the company services who has gotten his commercial driver's license and is driving school buses. JCPS contracts with First Student for its bus services.
Linthacum said Monday afternoon at First Student's offices at Norman Drive — just before his second time driving a bus with students on it — that he drives routes school principals choose for him.
His route Monday was Bus No. 2. Route information presented to the district's Board of Education in October shows the first route of Bus No. 2's schedule to pick up and drop off Thomas Jefferson Middle School students is planned to take 43 minutes, with about 37 approved daily miles. The bus' second route to pick up and drop off Belair Elementary School students is scheduled to take 21 minutes, with almost 16 approved daily miles.
Linthacum said he's also driven Bus No. 20, which is scheduled to take 15 minutes and 28 miles a day to pick up and drop off Thomas Jefferson students and another six minutes and 4.5 miles in the afternoon to pick up and drop off Moreau Heights Elementary School students.
Depending on the route, bus ride times across the district can vary from 10 minutes to more than an hour and half in the case of a bus that serves Simonsen 9th Grade Center, Jefferson City High School and Jefferson City Academic Center.
With concerns about students misbehaving on buses and whether students get to the right locations on time, Linthacum said he wants to get a better understanding of how the bus service works and ways to improve it.
"We don't appreciate our bus drivers enough," he said of the difficulty of the job and the importance of the responsibilities that go with it.
The buses' typical drivers are on the their bus with Linthacum when he drives — sometimes a bus monitor, too — and Linthacum said he's not being paid by First Student.
He said he wants to drive about once a month, adding he doesn't want to do much more than that because he's aware he wasn't hired to be a bus driver.
He anticipated there could be changes for busing next year — in processes, communication and expectations. The district is looking into having a focus group with students, bus drivers and others, he said.
Linthacum also said he would communicate with the Board of Education what he learns from his experiences behind the wheel.
He said he's also asked drivers to learn their students' names and greet them each day.