09/06/12 — Schools ask for patience with bus routes

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Schools ask for patience with bus routes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 6, 2012 1:46 PM

Chancey Thompson was not happy with how the school year kicked off this year.

First, she learned at the "last minute" that her children's school time had been changed.

She tried to be understanding about the need for the change -- attributed to a bus driver shortage in the district, prompting sharing of buses between Spring Creek high school and elementary school.

But her patience grew thin at the end of the first day when she found herself anxiously awaiting the return of her children.

She recounted the experience in an email to the News-Argus.

"My children, 6 and 8, were supposed to get dropped off the bus around 4:30 this afternoon," she wrote. "As I sit at spring Creek Elementary School at 6:15 p.m., with no word as to the situation but they 'left late,' I asked 'Why?' Why didn't they allow the younger children to get off the bus earlier and make the high school students (who should be at an age of being responsible for themselves) wait till later to get home?"

The biggest issue, she says now, was that no one would tell her where the bus, or her children, were. Not to mention some of the traffic issues.

In a week's time, though, she admits there have been improvements.

"Actually, today they used the bus parking lot for the car riders and the parents parking," she said Tuesday. "I think if everybody could get it together, it might work.

"I talked to Mr. (Darryl) Pitt, the transportation person for Spring Creek Elementary. He said part of the problem was so many parents trying to get in there and the bus couldn't get around them They sent something home Friday letting us know everything was going to change."

Ms. Thompson is still "frustrated" and "disheartened" to some extent because, as a single mother it is a challenge to get her children off to school and arrive to work on time. But she's willing to see it through.

"The bus situation, I hope it's going to be better," she said. "I think it's doing a lot better. You just have to deal with the road."

Carla Wicks' challenge centered around unannounced changes to the bus stop for her 6-year-old, who attends Tommy's Road Elementary School.

"The bus has always come down the street and picked her (up), along with four other kids in front of my neighbor's house," she wrote in an email. "Last week, with no notice, the school bus driver dropped the kids off at the corner so they walked down the road by themselves -- three 6-year-olds by themselves, no parents, no adult."

She and several other parents met at the school with William Snead, transportation supervisor for that district.

"We were told that the meeting was not needed, that this is a business and he would run his business the way he sees fit," she wrote. "No apology for dropping the kids off at the corner came from the bus driver. All she said was to speak to her supervisor. ... Mr. Snead needs to realize that these are our kids and this is NOT a business."

Ms. Wicks said she understands that it's the parent's responsibility to wait with the child until the bus arrives. She has no problem with that.

"The whole issue was dropping off the kids with no parents," she said, adding, "He does need to run it like a business, because he's got gas and pay and administrative stuff. But when we're talking about safety of our kids, it's a whole different story.

"The meeting wasn't so much about where the bus stop was. It was not knowing where the kids were dropped off without telling us where they were dropped off. It's just not a good situation."

District officials say they understand the frustration and concerns expressed by parents, and asked for patience as they continue to resolve the issues.

"We're working on them as hard as we can," Wanda Kearney, office manager in the district transportation office, said Tuesday. "It's a slow process."

This year, the district introduced several changes, combining duties and assigning five district supervisors responsible for bus drivers and developing routes for schools in their assigned areas.

A shortage of bus drivers and traffic jams in school zones, even more so at those schools sharing buses, have compounded the problem.

In addition to handling an influx of calls about transportation issues, the district supervisors are also having to pitch in and drive buses. Ms. Kearney, who is also responsible for the northern district, said Pitt has been driving a bus and Snead likely will be since a driver quit Tuesday.

"So far, I haven't had to drive but I have got a driver that may be out next week so I may have to," she said.

Pitt attempted to reach Raymond Smith, transportation director, who declined comment, referring all questions to the district office.

Olivia Pierce, executive director for information/technology services, tried to offer reassurances to parents.

In many respects, she said, this year's situation is not necessarily worse than any previous year.

"It's not atypical to have issues with buses the first few days of school," she said. "We're aware that there are some issues but they're isolated instances. We serve over 12,000 students on buses. Sometimes it takes a few days to address issues that we might have.

"Every day the student population changes. When that happens, it takes some adjustments. We're working through all that."

Mrs. Pierce asked for patience during the transition. Concerns should be directed to the individual schools, where officials will then relay them to the transportation department for resolution.

"The main thing we would ask parents to remember is that initially our bus routes are based on enrollment projections and anticipated demands," she said. "Our enrollment changes daily for those first 10 days. We're working to respond and address those needs."