Knox County Schools makes it easier for parents to report problems with buses

Transportation department adds new customer service manager.

(file photo)

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Knox County Schools said bus safety is a big priority.

The school system took a renewed focus following the 2014 bus crash that killed a teacher’s aide and two students. That crash along with numerous other bus problems has left some Knox County parents with concerns about putting their kids on a school bus.

In the midst of continuing problems ranging from overcrowded buses, minor crashes, to issues with bus drivers or contractors, the school district has implemented new safety features to improve the department and the safety of bus riders. They are also trying to streamline the transportation department to better assess issues.

“Honestly no I don’t feel safe. I’d rather take my child and drop him off,” said parent Dedra Isom. “If I had a choice my kids wouldn’t ride the bus.”

In addition to having general safety concerns, several parents reached out to WATE 6 On Your Side with concerns that their problems with Knox County Schools transportation don’t seem to be heard or solved. Knox County Schools said there is a reason for that.

“Previously, our customer service department really was individuals who had other responsibilities just picking up the phone,” said Knox County Schools Chief Operating Officer, Russ Oaks. “I think we were not as diligent and making sure we were following through and making sure we got back to people because those individuals had too many responsibilities in order to make sure that happened.”

So a lot of parents were left with bus problems they didn’t feel like were being addressed. Now, the district says things are changing starting with the transportation department’s new customer service manager, Kim Severance.

Chances are, if you have a transportation question or a problem with a Knox County bus or driver, Kim’s going to be the one helping you track down the solution. Her position has only existed for a few months, but it’s one the district desperately needed.

“As we increase, the services increase and the district size increases, then our call volume increased,” said Severance. “I would say we got to the point where that was needed to help really triage the calls and get them to the proper person.”

Severance said she gets roughly 300 phone calls a week and while she can’t always answer every problem, she hopes she can help direct people to a person that can. The customer service position is just one item on a list of changes Knox County Schools has made in the transportation department since the deadly 2014 bus crash.

Besides adding Severance, the district also bought hundreds of cameras that are currently being installed on all county buses. They’re supposed to be in place by Fall.

“They’re trying to make some improvements,” said Robin Harp, another Knox County parent who is encouraged by the progress.

There’s also a new ride along program where one of a dozen newly trained officers will ride a random bus to observe drivers and the safety of each bus. “That is encouraging because that lets us parents know that the school system does care about our kids,” said Isom.

The district said the changes show great progress, but admitted there’s still a ways to go after a third party analysis of the department revealed the district’s bus contractors are underpaid, and it needs to take on driver training responsibility.

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