PORT HAWKESURY: With three of its school feeder system reviews now complete and none on the horizon for the coming academic year, the Strait regional school board (SRSB) will devote more time to putting its school bus routes under the microscope.

SRSB superintendent of schools Ford Rice has confirmed that the board’s first official Student Transportation Boundary Review (STBR) has already started on a small scale in the Antigonish area and will expand to a full review this coming fall. This review, concerning the five schools in the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School feeder system, has been given a three-year window of completion, due to its status as the largest feeder system in the SRSB from a student population perspective.

“Our main focus next year is going to be on Antigonish and we’re going to be looking at some of those systems and what needs to be done there,” Rice explained at the SRSB’s latest regular monthly board meeting at Port Hawkesbury’s SAERC Auditorium on June 7.

“Because the Dr. J.H. Gills Regional High School feeder system is our most populated area, we have extended it over the next couple of years so we can do it and do it right the first time.”

The board is also expected to conduct an STBR for East Antigonish Education Centre/Academy (EAECA) in the 2017-18 academic year, according to the SRSB’s most recent Long-Range Outlook. The same document, published on the board’s official Web site, lists 2019-20 as the period for STBRs in the SAERC, Dalbrae Academy and Richmond Education Centre/Academy (RECA), with the board’s three Guysborough County feeder systems to be covered in 2020-21, followed by Inverness Education Centre/Academy (IECA) and Cape Breton Highlands Education Centre/Academy (CBHECA) in 2021-22.

The new transportation reviews will follow a public meeting format similar to the SRSB school review process, with the first of the three public meetings for each feeder system outlining the review, the second presenting potential scenarios to local residents and the third accepting feedback from the community. However, the STBRs will also receive assistance from a trio of data-collecting programs – the school transportation software package BusPlanner, the Barager Systems software that has assisted the SRSB in formulating enrolment projections, and GPS programs currently in use on SRSB buses.

“In the Strait regional school board, we have buses passing in different directions, and then we have buses going to the same direction half-full, or less than half-full,” Rice pointed out. “That’s the reason why we got that [BusPlanner] routing software.”

The superintendent noted that the use of the BusPlanner software over the past year has combined with consultation by the SRSB to allow the board to eliminate five buses within the region, resulting in an estimated savings of $300,000.

However, in response to a question from West Antigonish board member Richelle MacLaughlin regarding the new software’s potential to average out maximum and minimum driving times for individual bus routes, Rice responded that “software is only as good as the people who use it.”