When districts like Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks ISD already transport 108,000 students a day, field trips can add to the complexity. But Cy-Fair and other districts are realizing more transparency, accountability and efficiency through online trip planning software.
The district uses Easy Bus’ Easy Trip program to connect teachers, principals, central administration staff and transportation routers in a way never before possible. The software was implemented during the 2005-2006 school year, just as the district was beginning to make wide-range budget cuts that have totaled nearly $125 million. A year later, all out-of-district field trips were eliminated, but with the efficiencies since realized, Cy-Fair has stood the same if not expanded the number of trips it offers.
Debi Schlutz, assistant director of transportation operations, said 13,934 field trips were processed last year and that through May 1, another 11,843 trips had been processed with a month left in the school year. She noted that a large number of field and activity trips occur during the summer and that she did not forecast any further budget cuts hitting the field trip program. This is mainly due to cuts the district already absorbed over the past several years, but also how much easier and more accountable field trips are today.
“We went from paper requests to this, and it’s amazing because we can track where the approval process is,” she added. “Trips go through several different hands before we ever see them because they are justifying taking those kids out of the classroom.”
Online tracking software means districts no longer have to estimate trip mileage and hours or physically hunt down requests and approvals. It takes school buses off the island, so to speak, and connects all parties necessary for the planning process. The software is customizable, user-friendly and available from a host of providers. Joining Easy Bus’ Easy Trip are Transfinder’s Trip Finder, Edulog’s E-Trip, Trapeze’s TripPlanner and the Versatrans TripTracker by Tyler Technologies, just to name a few. Essentially, field trip software offers all the efficiencies of regular routing along with the internal efficiencies of saving time and money spent integrating routing with requests.
These largely web- or Windows-based solutions allow teachers to request trips and to estimate their cost and principals or other administrators to approve them. Transportation tracks the entire process and, of course, performs the actual trips.
“There’s no chasing paper or people around, a highly inefficient way to operate,” said Michael Hinckley, president of Easy Bus. “We’re hearing from our customers that what they want is the ability to track and to know that, when they’re going to assign a driver a trip, is that going to put them into overtime? The other thing is being able to bill (the trips) more precisely.”
At the start of the 2011-2012 school year, Waukegan Public School District 60, which serves Chicago’s north shore, implemented Versatrans’ TripTracker after the school board asked for greater accountability. Basically, they wanted to know which students were going where. Cost was also important, but Waukegan doesn’t fund field trips or extra-curriculuar trips. Instead, they are funded through grants provided by local museums and institutes, which is growing in popularity elsewhere.
“Here in the Chicago area, the Illinois Museum opened, and because most children today are so far removed from that, the museum has incorporated transportation costs. We’ve taken many trips for free because it’s been basically covered by the museum,” said Walter Doughty, the district’s director of transportation.
“It’s not so much how we as a district are spending money, but (field trip software) enables us to give a report to the school board on the types of trips a school is taking in general, what kind of programs they are taking our children to and what our costs are. Tracking gives you great accountability.”
Doughty said all parties are impressed with not only the ease of use but the ability to be more accountable in providing additional educational opportunities to students.
“The purpose of field trips is to enrich a student’s academic experience,” added James Guzewich, president of Tyler’s Versatrans Solution. “They do, however, come at a cost. Districts seem to be trending toward ‘virtual field trips,’ or requesting parents to cover the costs of the bus ride in addition to any entry/admission fee.
“It is our goal to provide software that can reduce the costs associated with transporting students to and from field trips as well as accommodate any district policy, including the ability to invoice the transportation costs for reimbursement.”
Reprinted from the June 2012 School Transportation News magazine edition. All rights reserved.