LOUISVILLE, Ky. — While many people in Louisville learned about the Boston-area company AlphaRoute this month, because it designed Jefferson County Public School's bus routes that experienced a meltdown on August 9, the two entities have actually been working together for over two years.
The FOCUS Investigative Team received contracts from JCPS that showed bus route and bell optimization work as far back as the 2021-22 school year. A district spokesperson says the total amount paid to the company since June 2021 is $858,167.
The first contract, approved by the school board on June 8, 2021, was for cutting the district's bus routes down from roughly 950 to 650, while still working within the previous two-bell system. That contract totaled $509,167: $346,667 for bus routing service, and $162,500 for bell time optimization "Option A". That contract was done under the company's previous name Dynamic Ideas Routing.
"It's hard for me to express how challenging it is for the transportation team to go from 950 routes to 650 routes, and provide all the same services that we did," Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said Monday. "We don't have the ability --or the in-house ability-- to just cut 300 routes."
A JCPS spokesperson followed up with clearer details Tuesday, saying, "As Dr. Pollio began floating the idea of changing bell times in 2021 (at the time it was flip flopping HS and elementary times to give older kids more sleep) AND dealing with a loss of drivers during COVID, we contracted with AlphaRoute to give us solutions. While we didn’t use the bell times optimization plan, we did use much of the routing solution they came up with to deal with the bus driver shortage during the 2021-22 school year."
When asked if AlphaRoute designed the bus routes that were habitually late during the 2022-23 school year, the spokesperson said, "The company continued to work on solutions last year as we got more serious about changing/adding bell times, approved a new student assignment plan (School Choice) giving all students the option of attending a school close to their home, and had thousands of students missing millions of hours of class time because we had too few drivers to cover all the routes."
JCPS leadership told the Board of Education on March 28 that the 2022-23 bussing issues had lead to 21,000 kids missing 3.5 million minutes of instructional time.
Board of Ed. member Dr. Corrie Shull told WHAS11 over the phone Tuesday he doesn't blame Dynamic Ideas/AlphaRoute for last year's school bus issues, because he believes those were more so on the driver shortage. Shull felt the first time the routes themselves became an issue was last week.
AlphaRoute, under its current name, designed the bus routes for the 23-24 school year. That was done under a $180,000 contract in November 2022, that was amended to a $265,000 contract in March 2023.
Dr. Pollio says across both contracts, JCPS has made changes or added stops to the routes after getting them from the company. Pollio has attributed this, as well as general "implementation" to the more severe bus issues JCPS experienced last week.
"That's the way we've done it in the past. And I can't get into the specifics of what sign-off met and didn't. But I think what we --we should have better communication with AlphaRoute about what we could do, what we could add, what we couldn't add, what we could be doing. I'll tell you this: it would be a lot easier for me to stand up here and say it's all AlphaRoute's fault. That's not the case," Pollio said.
AlphaRoute didn't respond to FOCUS' request for comment Tuesday, but said Monday, "We have had a team on the ground in Louisville since Saturday. Four of us are here now, and we do not yet have definitive plans on when we are returning. We will continue working closely with the district until then and after that on how to best identify and solve the issues that have been found."
A JCPS spokesperson says there was a $65,000 amendment to the 2021 contract in December of that year, and also a $19,000 consulting cost in Nov. 2022.
A school board member has never cast a "no" vote on an AlphaRoute/Dynamic Ideas contract. Each one has been included in a consent agenda that was approved unanimously. However, board member Linda Duncan did raise concerns about the proposed bussing plan in March 2023 when she voted "no" on the nine-bell Start Smart times.
"Have parents been made aware of the new bus stops that will necessarily have to happen now?" Duncan asked Pollio.
"No, that would be impossible at this time because we haven't finished student assignment yet," Dr. Pollio responded.
"Well, but we did figure that the bus stops would be farther apart, and we saw those numbers. So, it must be based on something. So, I just think it's important for parents to be aware of that factor in this. We're making a decision without their knowledge and it feels difficult for me to do that," Duncan said.
You can watch that school board meeting here. Duncan's comments begin at the 2:43:40 mark.