Lanette Daw 

Buses, boundaries and snow days

Lanette Daw may have one of the lowest public profiles in the Boise School District--at least outside of the district headquarters--yet she oversees one of the district's toughest tasks: safely moving more than 6,000 school children from home to school and back again.

As supervisor of transportation and traffic safety for Idaho's second largest school district, Daw's office is filled with maps and technology that determine how every child in Boise, from preschool to 12th grade, will make his or her way to school.

With the first day of classes set for Monday, Aug. 25, her work days are getting longer as the daylight grows shorter.

Before taking her job with the Boise Independent School District in 2011, Daw spent several years at the Idaho State Department of Education as a regional specialist and auditor for the transportation department. She spent a number of years traveling throughout Idaho, riding bus routes and inspecting vehicles, giving her a unique perspective for her current job.

Boise Weekly grabbed a rare half-hour with Daw to talk about drawing school boundaries, outsourcing transportation and how she knows before anyone whether it will be a snow day.

Why does the Boise School District choose to outsource student transportation?

From our perspective, the bus company's expertise is transportation; it's more cost effective for them to hire drivers and mechanics and purchase and maintain the buses.

I'm presuming that the contract for Boise is competitive.

It is. In fact, we recently went out to bid and First Student won the five-year contract, which will begin next year [the annual contract is approximately $7 million]. Boise is First Student's only Idaho contract, but First Student is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, school transportation provider in the U.S. [First Student purchased Laidlaw transportation in 2007, taking over the current Boise school bus contract, which expires in June 2015].

How did you determine the winning bid? I'm presuming that cost was the overriding factor.

Idaho Code says pretty clearly that it must be the "lowest responsible bidder." But beyond cost, we monitor them and make sure they're meeting our needs. Plus, First Student is the biggest company out there.

How many vehicles does First Student have in its Boise fleet?

One hundred and fifty.

My sense is that a lot of parents deal with transportation issues as much as anything else school-related.

When you let your kids out your door, you don't see them until the end of the day and transportation is a big part of that.

What is the standard criteria for busing eligibility?

You have to live more than a mile-and-a-half from your home school.

But there are exceptions.

Idaho Code says the school can provide so-called "safety busing"--for example, if a student has to cross a waterway or if there's no sidewalk or shoulder on the road. There are eight different criteria in our school board policy when we consider an exception.

You must get plenty of calls from parents pleading for busing, because they think their son or daughter just can't make it to school on time.

You bet. Every parent has their own level of comfort, but we have specific criteria. That's when we encourage parents to walk with their children and even practice walking now, before the school year starts.

We're just days away from another school year. I'm presuming that you've already communicated with parents regarding bus routes and times.

Letters were sent to parents two weeks ago with bus assignments. Plus, this year, we have a new online bus stop locator. A parent can type in their address and it will tell them where their bus stop is and what time the bus will come. You can look for the Bus Stop Locator on our website:

I should note that when I walked into your office, there were several maps of school neighborhoods on your table.

We've been examining boundary changes at some of our elementary schools.

Which schools were you analyzing?

Morley Nelson Elementary was pretty crowded last year, so we had to reduce that school by a pretty large number of students. But we couldn't just move them to another school. As a matter of fact, it took a cooperative effort among four neighboring schools. So we had to look at new boundaries for Morley Nelson, Koelsch, Mountain View and Valley View elementary schools.

Does that mean you'll have students living closer to school X, but bused to school Y?

That's always a possibility and certainly involving those four schools.

Do any of Boise's school boundaries lie over one another?

We have one dual boundary--it's the first time we've done this--in the Harris Ranch area. Adams Elementary is a very small school and we've had to overflow some kids to Riverside Elementary.

Talk to me about how you spring into action when terrible weather hits.

It can be pretty stressful. A group of us are out at 4 or 5 a.m.

What does that mean? Do you actually get out before everyone to see how tricky the driving is?

If we feel it's safe, the buses roll. Otherwise, school is closed or delayed. But the hard part is looking at the roads between 4 and 5 a.m. and guessing what it will be like by 7 a.m.

Are you second-guessed all the time?

You do your best. People are always going to agree or disagree on school closings.

Can I ask if your two sons take the bus?

We just moved, and they'll be going to two different schools. One will take the bus and one will walk. But the one who will walk has been practicing. He says, "You don't have to follow me." But honestly, I've been following him all summer.

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