School district leaders discussing new software with vendor to help make busing more flexible for families.

    Crookston School District officials, as they explore ways to make their busing routes and schedules more flexible for families, are in discussions with a vendor that, as part of a software package, would potentially equip school buses with computer chip readers and kids who ride the bus with some sort of ID card or tag that would be equipped with a computer chip.

    Superintendent Chris Bates said he’s hoping to have some sort of recommendation to the school board at their next meeting on Jan. 23. He and Transportation, Buildings & Grounds Coordinator Rick Niemela stressed that no costs have been discussed with the vendor yet. The next discussion, in a conference call, will take place on Jan. 17, and Bates has invited board members to participate.

    The push for more flexible busing has been discussed off and on for some time, but efforts have ramped up of late in large part due to a Crookston mom, divorced from her husband, who spoke to the board earlier this winter about the challenges posed to her family and other divorced families by he district’s policy of allowing one pick-up spot and one drop-off spot for kids. Bates, Niemela and board members have since been looking at ways to most efficiently and safely allow for two pick-up and drop-off spots for kids when their parents live separately, as long as the schedules are consistent.

    If the district purchases the software, it’ll likely come in two waves, Bates explained. The first part of the software focuses on routing, which Bates said the district already has a good handle on and should be relatively simple to implement. The second, more complicated part of the software would involve the tracking of kids who ride the bus. That’s when computer chips and chips readers would likely come into play.

    Niemela said he’s familiar with the vendor and knows of school districts in Minnesota who do business with them.

    Student rider lists would potentially be automatically generated each day and disseminated electronically to classrooms. The lists would be constantly generated and would be synched with the Skyward software currently utilized by teachers and families to keep track of academic performance.

    “Obviously, this is going to be a change, but I think they can offer us some of the things we’re wanting,” Bates said.

    One of the next questions to be tackled will be how fast to implement the new system. If the tracking component isn’t fully operational for another year or so, Bates said the district needs to be open to starting to implement a more flexible busing schedule ahead of the software’s full implementation, so families don’t have to wait so long for a more flexible busing system.

    “If we can get 50 percent in place by the start of the (2017-18) school year and get the tracking piece in place before that winter, I don’t think that would overwhelm people,” Bates said. “But how do we start to get some things in place now? That’s something we maybe need to try to answer before Jan. 17.”