Arlington School District keeps track of bus ridership for state transportation funds

ARLINGTON — Pioneer Elementary third-grader Thanh Vu enjoys helping school bus driver Jim Johnson keep count of the students on his route.

“He likes running the little clicker,” Johnson said Oct. 6, in the middle of the Arlington School District’s annual week of counting district-transported students for the state of Washington. “He pays attention and is very accurate. Of course, I already log the numbers of students who board the bus at each stop, but he still likes doing it.”

From Oct. 4-11 this year, the Arlington School District’s bus drivers took count of the student riders on their morning routes all five days to help the state determine how much revenue it will dispense to the district for its annual transportation funds. Since the remainder of transportation funding is generated through levies, the district sends out information through the schools’ websites, hand-outs and word-of-mouth about the ridership week, emphasizing its importance. Still, Johnson has found that students who ride school buses tend to do so later in the day.

“In the morning, I’ll have as few as 40 elementary school students sometimes,” Johnson said. “That same afternoon, it could be more than 70 elementary school students on the same route. I’m guessing a lot of parents take their kids into school themselves in the morning. The kids are usually a lot calmer during the mornings anyway. By the afternoon, they’re all fired up,” he laughed.

Arlington School District Transportation Supervisor Cheryl Power noted that the district’s bus drivers also serve a certain number of homeless students, students who live in the area but are transported to other districts and students who only receive bus service on those mornings when parents call to request it.

“If those students don’t happen to ride the bus during that one ridership week each year, they don’t get counted for the state’s funding formula,” Power said. “It’s changed next school year, so we’ll be keeping count on three separate occasions that year, which is much more beneficial to us.”

The district has also been adjusting its bus routes this year, to even out the numbers of students served on each route, and as a result, a number of students who had gotten used to being picked up by Bob Dorsey were saddened by his absence from their routes.

“Bob’s still with us,” Power said. “He’s just taking a different route. We actually saw signs asking to ‘Bring Bob Back,’ which was flattering. Students and drivers often get attached to each other, and if they’re able to do so, drivers often stick with the same routes for years because they grow to like them so much.”

“The kids are why I do this job,” Johnson said. “Without them, I’d just be driving a truck, and I already did that. It was boring,” he laughed.

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