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Duluth Independent School District #709

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Duluth Independent School District #709Redistricting is Easy with Tyler's VersaTrans Solution

Helping a Duluth School District Solve Its Complicated Transportation Equation

On any given day the Duluth Independent School District #709 transports 8500 students to and from more than 30 different public, non-public, charter and alternative schools within a 337 square mile area. The district’s wide variety of schools and programs and its mix of 48 square miles of urban neighborhoods with 289 square miles of rural areas - each posing very different busing challenges - make for a uniquely complicated transportation equation. For the past four years VersaTrans has been instrumental in solving this equation on a daily basis.

“It really is a puzzle to solve and it has to fit together just right for things to run efficiently,” said Ken Willms, Transportation Supervisor for the Duluth Independent School District #709. “There are many, many variables. We couldn’t do it without VersaTrans.”

Routing & Planning, VersaTrans’ powerful yet easy-to-use transportation management tool is a software program that connects student files and boundary and route data with the most accurate maps available. The software’s core routing lets users define and prioritize variables such as maximum loads, bus speeds and bell times to formulate any number of “what-if” scenarios from which an optimal routing plan can be determined. Prior to implementing VersaTrans, transportation planners were forced to pull student data from the district’s student information system and manually design bus routes, a cumbersome and highly inefficient system that required constant modification.

“We had no way to collectively look at the data so we would put bus stops on many corners and after the school year began adjust for overloads,” said Willms. “We had four to five thousand changes a year - they came faster than we could deal with them.”

Since implementing VersaTrans the results have been measurable. “I can think of several examples where we’ve gone into VersaTrans and looked at the number of eligible kids and decided that we had too many buses and cut one,” said Willms, noting that a bus costs his district $40,000 per year to run. “Or we may not cut a route but we free up a bus to use more productively and down the road are able to cut a bus.”

Over the past two years, with the district facing declining enrollments that are forcing school closings and consolidations, routing has taken a back seat to redistricting as the primary application for the Routing and Planning software. “We were asked to help with redistricting by the school board and as it turned out VersaTrans is a very nice tool for doing this too,” explained Willms.

The software’s boundary planning features let school district planners evaluate multiple “what-if” scenarios taking into account the many factors that go into redistricting decisions - parental concerns, the desire to keep neighborhoods together, other geographic considerations and, not least of all, economic factors. Using the software’s student location maps, color-coded variables, overlays and sorting features, planners are able to present a clear and comprehensive picture of boundary alternatives to school boards, administrators and the public.

“There are many trade-offs with redistricting,” said Willms. “Before VersaTrans we literally used push pins and yarn to make these decisions. It was extremely time-consuming and I know we didn’t look at every option available.”

With VersaTrans, complex redistricting and routing decisions as well as day-to-day transportation operations are made easier with the software’s robust features. One Touch Routing (OTR) - a feature that sets VersaTrans apart from competing products - automatically generates a baseline routing plan with one touch of a button. A significant time-saver, this feature provides a solid starting point from which to build a routing plan that works best.

“One Touch Routing is a really nice way to do it,” said Willms. “What used to take three days now takes an hour. It always tries to give you the fewest routes possible so I let the computer do its ‘what-if’ then manually manipulate things that I know won’t work due to geography or time of day.”

And the software’s data-rich student screen allows planners to maintain a wealth of important transportation and emergency data on every student.

“The student screen is fabulous,” said Willms. “All emergency information is right at your fingertips - it’s a one-stop place to go.”

The Routing & Planning software is installed on desktop computers of the
transportation department’s five users and student transportation data is accessed over a local area network. According to Ken, VersaTrans’ skilled installation technicians, superior technical support and rapid response times have made for a smooth and seamless operation.

VersaTrans Routing & Planning continues to help this school district solve its daily transportation puzzle while finding new district boundaries that best meet the community’s needs. “It’s phenomenal,” said Willms. “The program has done everything that I’ve asked it to do. You have to be here and experience it to see the great benefits and ease it gives us day to day.”


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