The Wheels on the Busing Issue Go Round and Round
Though an additional bus has improved some of the problems, parent concerns remain.
Three weeks into the school year, the town’s bus routes have improved but remain a work in progress.
Public comments during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting were certainly fewer and fairer than they were two weeks ago, when a handful of parents expressed their outrage over the errors and inefficiencies that marred the first few days of school for the second consecutive year.
Since the Sept. 13 meeting, the BOE added a second bus to the Edison 7 (“E7”) route and reduced the length and number of stops on the route, eliminating many of the inefficiencies that plagued student transportation during the first week of the school year. However, questions remain over bus routes and and proper avenues parents should pursue to ensure their remaining concerns and complaints are listened to and addressed.
“Who’s calling the shots?” parent Barbara Strauss asked as she addressed the BOE last night.
Strauss’ comments echoed a concern that lingered from the previous BOE meeting, as parents seem to continue to struggle finding the proper person or group to direct their complaints to in order to see necessary changes made. Though parents said some BOE members had responded to emails sent to them about the bus issue, parents also said the town’s Transportation Office has seemingly been less receptive to their concerns, resulting in what Strauss called “one-way communication” that has hampered efforts to correct problems in a timely manner.
“Let’s resolve some of the issues,” Strauss said. “We’re sending emails to lots of people with very few responses."
Strauss thanked the BOE for adding the second E7 bus, for reducing the number of stops on the route from 17 to 11, and for making the previously circuitous route a shorter and more linear one.
“I think we’re making strides in the right direction, but the second bus does not answer all the questions that remain,” said Strauss, who also spoke at the Sept. 13 meeting.
One of those remaining questions is how the town can hold accountable bus drivers who may not be operating their vehicles in the safest manner. According to Strauss, she has seen drivers on cell phones and wearing earpieces while behind the wheel. She also said she's seen drivers miss bus stops and stop signs. Recently, afternoon routes have began to differ from the routes taken in the morning, she said, which has made it difficult for parents to know where and at what time students will be dropped off.
“I think this is a potential problem [if routes are changing for reasons other than student safety],” Strauss said. She requested better communication from the town and the BOE for any changes made to the routes and BOE members echoed agreement.
“It certainly should not be haphazard,” Superintendent Margaret Dolan said of the direction of the bus routes. Dolan added that the routes of the buses and any changes to them should indeed be communicated to parents.
Interim business administrator Vincent Yaniro clarified the process that leads to the creation of the bus routes. The BOE worked in conjunction with Vogel Bus Company, Inc., during the summer to craft the routes and the BOE is now working out new schedules for when buses arrive to and depart the town’s schools.
“We are working on making sure outgoing routes are the same [in reverse] of incoming routes,” Yaniro said. He said a new set of outgoing routes were implemented Monday. Dolan assured that data and information regarding these routes is being collected, but that no conclusions could be reached after just two days.
Strauss and fellow concerned parent Cindy Smith suggested having a person ride each bus with students in order to better observe driver behavior, even volunteering parents for the task. Though Dolan said having parents ride the bus was not possible, the BOE did say it would look into the financial and practical feasibility of such an option.
“I think there needs to be someone on the bus,” BOE member Rosanne Kurstedt said. “Something is not working here and I don’t know what it is. My child isn’t even on the bus and I’m frustrated.”
Board member David Finn said that holding drivers accountable has been more difficult because the same drivers do not always drive the same routes. Yaniro said he had been told that would not be the case.
“How much more rope do we give Vogel?” BOE member Mitch Slater asked later in the meeting.
“We’ve been thinking about that,” Yaniro responded, with him and Dolan both saying the district will be weighing its options.
Yaniro clarified that parents should email him any complaints they have related to the busing issue. He also requested that messages be sent as close to the time of the related incident and with as much detail as possible, so that he and Vogel can specify the driver responsible for the problem.
“I hear you,” he told Smith as she voiced her frustrations toward the conclusion of the meeting. “Give me specifics in a timely manner and I’ll address them. As I said, I will address every issue you raise.”