LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Forty years ago the Jefferson County Public School system changed forever. The district started busing students from one side of the city to the other in order to achieve racial diversity in schools.
Times have changed but that controversial busing system remains. Along with some long and complicated bus routes some have complained about for decades.
It was 7:46 in the morning when JCPS Bus 0777 picked up its first student on West Broadway. The bus stops for more than a dozen other west end elementary students. The students were headed to a school, not around the corner, but 19 miles away. First dropping of kids at Norton Elementary, way out on Brownsboro Road. Then, another stop at Zachery Taylor Elementary on Westport Road.
The last child stepped off the bus an hour and six minutes after the route began. It's the kind of ride that angers Louisville attorney Teddy Gordon, who fought for years to try and stop the student assignment plan.
"I have so many parents that call me that are disenfranchised," Gordon said. "That want their kids near their home. I don't care if they are black, white, green or purple."
JCPS said you can't always blame long bus rides on the student assignment plan which seeks racial diversity in schools through a complicated busing system. Chief Operating Officer Michael Raisor said some of the longest bus ride times in the district come by choice. He said more than 40 percent of JCPS families don't request the school closest to them even though they could.
"We want to try and offer as many choices as we can," Raisor said. "And sometimes that means you may be on a bus a little bit longer."
JCPS students who Raisor said, opt for more desirable schools within their cluster even though they are further away. We watched as two kids from the same exact apartment complex got picked up by different buses headed for completely different schools.
Raisor said more and more students are also enrolling at magnet schools outside their cluster, and their area. Bus 0927 picks up kids way out in Fisherville then works its way back into town bound for Young Elementary, an advanced academic magnet down off Shawnee Expressway.
It's such a long trip students actually have to transfer buses almost an hour into the ride at Waggener High School. Boarding a second bus that finally gets them to Young well over an hour after the ride begins.
"If we can get our kids into a program that met their needs that engaged them that excited them, and they were on the bus for 45 minutes, or they could walk down the street and get the same cookie cutter education the 1950's produced, I think that's an easy choice for all of us," Raisor said.
Raisor said the district has focused on reducing bus ride times ever since the WAVE 3 News Troubleshooter Department first investigated this issue back in 2011. According to numbers provided by the district, the average elementary school ride time was 29 minutes back then. It's down to 25 minutes this year. A total of 1,055 elementary school students had ride times that were more than an hour. Now, 464 do.
So why do it at all? JCPS said data shows lower income students perform much better on standardized tests when they are enrolled at higher income schools.
School board member Diane Porter said that's not the only reason the school board has resisted calls to return to the neighborhood school model.
"And when we embraced the student assignment plan it broadened the horizon for a lot of students," Porter said. "By placing them in different locations, different areas of the county, and giving them the opportunity and access to programs that they may not have had."
JCPS hopes ride times will continue to come down as the district's new cluster system reduces the distance between school options for parents. But it will never be enough for critics like Teddy Gordon, who believes the millions spent on fuel and other transportation costs would be better served making struggling schools better. So families have a good neighborhood option wherever they live.
If you're wondering about JCPS fuel costs, they're down from 2011, but so is the price of gas.