Stop or go? Bentonville School Board to decide whether to move forward with bus stop consolidation plan

Proposal to reduce routes raises safety concerns for Bentonville members

School busses make their way to pick up school children, Friday, January 20, 2023 from the Bentonville Schools bus barn in Bentonville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
School busses make their way to pick up school children, Friday, January 20, 2023 from the Bentonville Schools bus barn in Bentonville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

BENTONVILLE -- The fate of a proposal to consolidate the Bentonville School District's bus stops should become clearer at the School Board's meeting next week.

Board members have expressed some concerns about safety and requested additional information related to the plan.

Superintendent Debbie Jones said if the board is not prepared to make a decision on the plan next week, she would recommend postponing implementation of it by a year and continuing with the bus stops as they are, at least through the 2023-24 school year.

"Because I don't want to do this poorly. And it's going to take that amount of time to do it well," Jones said, during the board's last meeting on Feb. 21.

The board's next meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. March 14.

Administrators introduced the transportation proposal in January. The board discussed the proposal again for about 30 minutes at its February meeting.

Jason Salmons, the district's transportation director, presented the proposal to consolidate multiple bus stops to locations such as parks, churches and businesses with large parking lots, within 1 mile of most homes. Exactly how many stops there would be and where has not been determined.

He said this could reduce the number of bus routes from 118 to about 89 -- a 25% cut. Families would be able to register for a preferred bus stop and students would still be scheduled by elementary and secondary groups, according to administrators.

Salmons said while parents would have to get more involved in getting their kids to and from the bus stop, it also would result in a more reliable transportation system. The district had 152 delayed routes and 149 canceled routes during the first four months of this school year because of a driver shortage, according to Salmons.

At the February board meeting, he presented examples of how much time could be saved by consolidating stops.

One example had to do with a pair of buses that loop through the Shadow Valley subdivision in Rogers each morning and afternoon carrying students to and from Evening Star Elementary School. Each bus currently takes 24 to 29 minutes per one-way trip. If bus stops within Shadow Valley were consolidated to one -- at the subdivision's clubhouse -- each bus trip would take only about eight minutes, Salmons said.

He said the district has a little over 2,500 bus stops, but it's too early to say how many there would be under a consolidated system.

"That will take us months to do," Salmons said.

If the board decides to adopt consolidated bus routes, the district will evaluate every bus stop it has, he said. Some stops may be consolidated while others will remain in place for various reasons, he said.

Several board members expressed concern about students walking in certain areas that aren't pedestrian-friendly, especially in Bella Vista and rural areas.

Kelly Carlson, board president, said the feedback he's received from the community on the consolidation plan revolves around Bella Vista, with its many winding roads and lack of sidewalks in most areas.

"And I don't know if I've seen much to address Bella Vista specifically from a safety issue," Carlson told Salmons, referring to the information Salmons had presented.

Willie Cowgur, board vice president, said the proposal is the right move from an efficiency standpoint, but from a safety standpoint, it will be a harder sell.

"I'm gonna have to feel really, really good about the safety plan we have with this before we move forward," Cowgur said.