Talk about changing gears

TRACY AREA PUBLIC SCHOOLS TRANSPORTATION DIRECTOR John Brandt’S new best friend is this very large whiteboard he uses to keep busing routes straight. Photo / Per Peterson

So far, busing students under hybrid plan working well

By Per Peterson

With the yearly search for bus drivers to deal with John Brandt has enough on his plate. This year, the transportation director for Tracy Area Public Schools had a whole new battle to fight.

“The Thursday before (school started), it was all of a sudden, our numbers are low enough, we can go to one route and be all right,” Brandt said Monday. “That was a lot of 14-hour days for Shauna (Davis) and I, sitting out here all day, no breaks, no nothin’ — run out and grab some food and come back and eat in the office. We don’t typically eat out that much, but we had Subway twice and Casey’s pizza twice.”

Finding some good food has been the least of Brandt’s battles entering this school year.

Facing an ever-changing world of COVID-19, Tracy Public School District officials have had to adjust on the fly this summer and into the current school year. Classrooms are different, lunch time is, too. And when it comes to getting students to and from school, well that already huge challenge, grew exponentially this summer.

“It’s never the same, because you never have the same kids riding twice in the same day,” said Brandt.

Brandt said the first week of school went “relatively decent. Everybody got picked up, nobody got forgotten.”

Transportation directors like Brandt, and Davis before him, are charged with all transportation affairs in what is a very large district. Under the new COVID-19 schedule, all parents were given the opportunity to accept the role of driving their kids to and from school if the new schedule didn’t work for them. Many have, but most have not.

“The furthest families (from Tracy) are still riding,” Brandt said. “They’re the ones that decided not to transport (their own kids). We are still going all the way to our furthest reaches, and then some.”

District bus drivers truly cover a lot of ground — from east of Milroy, to north and east of Walnut, all the way to just south of Russell. All in all, it’s about 25 miles in every direction from Tracy.

“And we’re down into Dovray and Currie,” Brandt said. “We span a very large area. That’s why we still have 10 bus routes, plus the special education route — we’ve got to send them in so many different directions.”

The big challenge so far this year, Brandt said, is making sure no bus is carrying more than the allotted number of passengers: 38.

“We ended up well below it, thanks to all the parents that did decide to transport their own children, so I’m very thankful for that,” said Brandt.

Tracy Area High School Principal Kathy Vondracek said she has been impressed so far with how the busing has gone in such a widespread school district.

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.