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School bus drivers in North Haven say they’re hurt by public criticism

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NORTH HAVEN — Ongoing conversations about the school district’s bus service led to a contentious back-and-forth between some drivers and the Board of Education chairman during a recent meeting. 

A few parents criticized the bus service at the board’s Oct. 12 meeting, saying promises by M&J Bus Company haven’t resulted in consistent pickups and dropoffs for students. One parent told the board he started a petition demanding the board terminate its contract with M&J. 

Executives for the company were not at the meeting, but two bus drivers responded by calling the comments hurtful.

“We need your support and the parents’ support, as well as everything else, because it makes our jobs harder,” April Wisniewski said. “We take it personally when we are bashed on forums.” 

That prompted board Chairman Ronald Bathrick to say the criticisms were directed at the company, and not the drivers. He also said M&J has to bring problems raised by drivers to the board. 

“It’s not our job to go to him and say ‘you know what, we can fix this,’” Bathrick said, referencing M&J Bus Company Chief Operating Officer Jon Hipsher. 

Hipsher did share plans at the board’s Sept. 14 meeting to improve bus service. Parents had complained about unreliable service, with pickup and dropoff times varying a lot. 

“They come up with new policies and procedures and they say they’ll follow, but they don’t seem to,” Kyle said. He added he had a petition with 130 signatures from parents who wanted to end the contract with M&J. 

Fellow parent Michelle Leomo also said service hadn’t improved. Bathrick said the school board and district officials were trying to push M&J to improve. 

“We are actively engaged in a conversation about M&J, that’s all I can say about that,” he said. 

But Wisniewski and Deanna Fusco said they were hurt by the criticism. 

“The thing is when we need support — nothing,” Fusco said. “We have to fight.” 

Fusco specifically stated that bus drivers could use help with traffic control on Elm Street when trying to enter and exit the high school. 

Wisniewski, meanwhile, suggested the school board cluster houses that are near each other into a single stop, instead of making each house its own stop. 

Bathrick said the school board had not planned to discuss bus service on the agenda and drivers should tell Hipsher to bring their problems and concerns to school officials. 

The drivers felt Bathrick was cutting them off after letting parents voice their complaints. 

“Everyone can speak what they want to speak, but we can’t,” Fusco said. Bathrick pushed back, saying he wasn’t trying to stop them from talking.


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