Wake putting up to 27 more school buses back in service

District acts to fix multiple problems

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comAugust 31, 2012 

BUSUPDATE3NE083112CEL

Rita Bouzane smiles as Jack McMillan runs for the bus after she escorted her son to the vehicle Friday Aug. 31, 2012. The bus for this route was one of many that had difficulties earlier int he week with routes that resulted in long waits for buses.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

  • Find out about bus changes Go to the district’s website at www.wcpss.net to find a list of updated bus routes.

Acknowledging they had gone too far in cutting buses, Wake County school administrators announced Friday they’re putting back on the road as many as 27 of the 52 buses that were parked to save money.

And Superintendent Tony Tata said Wake will roll out more buses, if needed, until there’s a resolution to the problems that caused thousands of complaints during the first week of traditional-calendar school.

The move, first announced by school board member Debra Goldman, is designed to relieve this week’s problems with stranded children, tardy morning pickups and late arrivals home among the district’s 75,000 bus riders. The traditional-calendar school year started Monday with 880 buses on the road, down 52 from last year despite an additional enrollment estimated at 3,700.

“There are no excuses for what happened, and we are committed to fixing the problem,” Tata said in a written statement. “If we determine more buses are needed, we will continue to add them until the issue is resolved.”

Administrators said seven more buses were in service Friday, in addition to the four added on Tuesday. Up to 16 more buses will be on the road Tuesday following the Labor Day holiday.

School officials are scheduled to discuss the transportation changes at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Principals are supposed to communicate directly with parents who will be affected by changes to bus routes and schedules. Wake was receiving as many as 2,000 bus calls a day, with late arrivals to and from school persisting into Friday.

Jennifer Kochman, a parent at York Elementary School in North Raleigh, welcomed the news of more buses. But she hoped the additions would be enough to prevent the late arrivals home that have plagued families all week.

“Five p.m. is better than 6 p.m., but it’s still outrageous, so that needs to be kept in mind by the school board as they make their decisions,” she said.

Not enough

Rachel Trunkey, a Raleigh parent, said 27 more buses is too little for the problems Wake is facing. She said the school system should have been adding more buses this year and not taking them off the road

“I understand about cutting costs, but doing it at the expense and safety of our kids is ridiculous,” she said.

Tata and transportation staff are conducting a route-by-route analysis of problems to provide more buses when schools reopen Tuesday, which is the first full day for many kindergarten students on traditional calendars.

“Tony Tata today is going over to Rock Quarry Road (Wake schools transportation headquarters) and go through every bus route personally to make sure that this is making sense,” Goldman said

Tata took responsibility this week for the bus problems. On Tuesday, he directed staff to put four buses back on the road, at a cost of $250,000 a year.

Board members Chris Malone and Christine Kushner also reported that they have been besieged by complaints. They said they have been assured that the system is putting every available resource to work to fix the problems.

Goldman, who is the Republican candidate for state auditor, called the situation “completely unacceptable.”

“I know our superintendent is working constantly,” she said. “He has gotten himself in the trenches.”

Wake took the 52 buses off the road, Tata said, to save $5 million in operating costs and to try to restore a $3 million loss in state funding. The state funds school districts based on a formula that looks at factors such as the number of buses on the road and riders per bus. Tata said changes made by other districts to cut their bus service had raised their scores and made Wake look less efficient in the state’s eyes.

The restoration of additional buses on the road would eat into the projected savings and potentially make it harder for Wake to recoup the lost state dollars.

‘A sense of urgency’

Malone, a Republican candidate for state House, said the bus problems this year have three causes: the typical startup problems of any school year, the institution of the new choice plan and the state funding formula.

“There is a sense of urgency and the need to take care of business,” Malone said of the schools’ response.

Turmoil over the bus system even reached the level of the state legislature – state Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, said Friday he had heard from many constituents about issues including children left unattended to wait for buses.

“It is a local issue that I think they should be able to resolve, and they should be able to resolve it rather quickly,” Dollar said.

For the first time this week, Thomas Bouzane said a bus arrived Friday to take his son Chris, a seventh-grader from Cary, to Dillard Drive Middle School in Raleigh.

“I’ve lost my confidence in the whole system,” Bouzane said. “I’ll hope things get better next week. But if they mess this up, what else are they messing up?”

At Underwood Elementary in Raleigh’s Five Points area, the last bus showed up at 9:38 a.m. Friday – 23 minutes after class started for the day.

“It’s just like everybody’s been saying,” said Underwood mom Angela Lewis, who drove her daughter to school Friday instead of relying on the bus. “The buses weren’t showing up, the buses are late; it’s been a nightmare.”

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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