NORTH PROVIDENCE – School officials are acknowledging deficiencies in school busing to start the 2021-2022 school year, but Supt. Joe Goho says the majority of them are related to the statewide busing service.
Parents complained to The North Providence Breeze last week that not only were buses late, but some were so full that some students had to be left at school.
In a Sept. 8 email provided to The Breeze by Goho, Donna Hanley, principal at Centredale Elementary School, updated school officials and representatives from Durham School Services on continued busing issues, attributing them to the statewide bus service.
“The state bus dropped off at 10:10 and picked up at 4:50. That is an hour and a half after dismissal and one hour and 15 minutes’ loss of instruction time in the morning,” she said. “I understand that there are busing shortages; however, this is unacceptable. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”
In a follow-up email last Friday, Sept. 10, Hanley gave an update.
“They are now arriving on time in the morning; however, pickup is still an issue,” she said. “We have called the statewide bus service multiple times, issues persist. The students have been picked up late every day. Yesterday, it was 4:05, today it was 4:20. These children are transported to (school) daily. It is unfair for them to wait an hour or more for pickup. I have called multiple times to no avail. I am not sure what next steps to take. I have made them aware of the issues. This is unacceptable. Please advise.”
Goho acknowledged that there are issues with busing in general to start the year, but the more significant ones are happening with the statewide service.
“At the beginning of every school year, it is typical for busing to take a couple of weeks to settle in to a schedule and run efficiently because every year the routes are changed and stops adjusted as students matriculate through the school system and new students enter,” he said. “It takes a couple weeks for drivers, many of whom are new themselves, to become familiar with the new routes and patterns.”
The district hasn’t experienced anything beyond the usual hiccups locally, he said, but is mostly concerned about statewide transportation and the significant delays to and from school due to a severe shortage of drivers.
Statewide busing services students coming from outside the district, as well as special education students. Students utilize statewide service if they attend an out-of-district placement (special needs), a parochial school, or are considered homeless.
Regarding Durham’s district busing, said Goho, “we did see afternoon delays during the first week,” and some of the problems can be attributed to the same driver shortage.
“However, based on what I observed myself, the initial problem has been at the high school, which is the first afternoon bus run,” he said. “The high school parking lot has been excessively full with an increase in students driving to school and more parents transporting students to school because of the pandemic.”
There is also increased enrollment at the high school, he added, the result being a parking lot “that is very congested and jammed at dismissal,” making it difficult for bus drivers.
The other issue is an unusually high volume of traffic on Mineral Spring Avenue, he told The Breeze.
“The buses have had a very hard time getting out of the high school parking lot and onto Mineral Spring Avenue,” he said. “The first two days of school, it literally took almost 30 minutes for the last bus to get out of the high school parking lot, when it usually takes 10 to 15 minutes for all of the buses to leave the high school.”
When the first run of buses at the high school is delayed, the next two runs to the middle schools and the elementary schools get delayed because it is the same buses that are used to pick up the students at all schools, he said.
Goho said he met last week Director of Transportation Jim Fuoroli, the four school resource officers, the high school administrative team, and Durham to develop a plan to direct traffic in the high school parking lot and on Mineral Spring Avenue to enable the bus drivers to leave on time, including painting traffic lines in the parking lot.
“The next day the plan was like clockwork thanks to the school resource officer. Traffic flowed smoothly, and the buses departed the high school parking lot more quickly and easily,” he said. “On Friday I was at Whelan Elementary School and all of the buses arrived on time at dismissal, and they all quickly exited the parking lot.”
Whelan is generally a problem area because of the tight street and small parking lot, he said, “so it is a very good sign that everything there flowed smoothly Friday afternoon.”
At the end of each day, Durham contacts school officials to let them know when all of the buses have returned to the bus yard.
“This week the calls have come a little after 4:30 p.m.,” said Goho. “Prior to the pandemic, the calls typically came between 4:20 and 4:30, so I would say at this point, we are almost where we should be.”