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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Late school buses leave some parents steaming

WESLEY CHAPEL — Cara McKiernan didn’t like that New River Elementary was given an hour later start time this school year, so when buses began arriving late to pick up children, she became that much more exasperated.

“Everyone was assured once (the time change) goes through it will be smooth sailing,” said McKiernan, the mother of two children at the school.

That was not the case, she said.

The slow-running buses mean children are late for class, don’t have time to eat breakfast at school and are unable to participate in activities such as safety patrol and the school’s news crew, she said.

“Everything is off to a bad start for these kids, and it’s not their fault,” she said.

Gerson Galvis, whose 7-year-old son rides a bus to New River, concurs. He said the bus is 20 to 25 minutes late each morning picking up his son. The first couple of days of school, Galvis said, the bus was as late as 45 minutes dropping him off at the end of the day. That’s improved somewhat, he said, but “still, every day it’s a different time.”

“We are just waiting and waiting and waiting,” Galvis said.

New River Elementary was among eight schools that were given new bell schedules for this academic year as part of a cost-saving effort when the school board planned its budget. District officials said changing the start and dismissal times for those schools would allow the district to consolidate some bus routes, eliminate about 30 jobs and save the district more than $800,000.

New River Elementary now begins the day at 9:40 a.m. and ends it at 3:50 p.m. Both times are an hour later than a year ago, but in line with schedules many elementary schools already had.

Assistant Superintendent Ray Gadd acknowledged there have been problems with late buses at New River and throughout the school district with the start of the 2013-14 academic year, which began Aug. 19. Many glitches are beginning to be worked out, he said, but none of the bus problems were related to schools starting an hour later.

“The bell schedule change doesn’t affect buses being early or late because we change the routes to fit the schedule,” Gadd said.

It is possible, though, that a reworked route means a child who was among the first riders picked up or dropped off last year might be among the last on the route this year, he said.

Gadd said bus woes are typical for the start of a new school year. Some of that is unavoidable, he said, but this year seemed especially rough, and he planned to meet with the transportation department to discuss some of the bus issues.

Jack Greene, a transportation supervisor, said the department keeps in close touch with Lynn Pabst, the New River principal, to address problems, and she lets the department know if buses are late. Like Gadd, Greene said bell-time changes and late buses are unrelated issues.

New River did see some late-arriving buses initially, but “we ironed most of those out,” Greene said. Drivers usually handle three routes — a high school route, then a middle school, then an elementary school. If the driver encounters traffic problems that make the high school stops late, that can put the whole morning behind schedule.

One factor contributing to late buses in the afternoon is that during the first 10 days of school the drivers are trying to learn which students get off at which stops, Greene said. Schools give each rider a color-coded wristband that includes that information. Those bands are checked carefully the first two weeks of school, which slows things down, but by next week drivers should know the students and their stops, he said.

“It’s a trade off for making sure we don’t leave a child unattended,” Greene said.

McKiernan, the New River Elementary mom, said the bell-time change at New River has caused other repercussions for families as parents changed their work schedules or scrambled to find morning child care, creating an added expense.

“They did this as a cost-saving measure,” she said. “It’s not cost savings for the parents involved.”

The board approved the time changes in July, which gave parents little time to make other plans, McKiernan said. The school-choice period was months earlier; otherwise, some parents might have tried to move their children to another school, she said.

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