WALLINGFORD — Parents complain that repeated consolidations of school bus routes are resulting in disruptive delays and crowded conditions for the kids on board.
Town Councilor Jason Zandri said numerous parents have contacted him, some sharing stories of waiting so long for buses to arrive that they ultimately drive their kids to school to avoid being late for work.
“I see an unprecedented amount of parents dropping their kids off at school,” said Zandri, who has three children attending Wallingford Public Schools. “…They are doing it because they can't trust the bus schedule.”
Dominic Barone, the school district’s business manager, said the current transportation contractor, Durham School Services, has been receptive to working with the town on the issue. The Illinois-based company was preparing a response to questions via email as of Wednesday evening.
While he was unable to say if the town has seen an increase in route consolidations, Barone said the issue is one of the factors being weighed as the town prepares to award its next five-year transportation contract. Bidding for the contract closed on Nov. 21, 2019 with 15 proposals received — including Durham School Services and other regional heavyweights such as the New Britain Transportation Company and DATTCO.
Since the contract goes into effect on July 1 to provide transportation for summer programs, Barone said the provider should ideally be chosen between April and May.
If parents have signed up for transportation notifications, they’ll be notified of any delays resulting from route consolidation with an estimate of when the bus will arrive at a student’s pick-up or drop-off stop. According to Zandri, however, these estimates often aren’t in line with when the buses actually arrive.
Zandri said that consolidated buses can become cramped for students and make school days additionally stressful.
In one message Zandri received and shared with the Record-Journal, a parent of a Highland Elementary School student wrote that their son began crying when told that their route might be consolidated again. The message states that students sit four to a seat when routes are combined and rides can take as long as 50 minutes.
The parent also wrote that they believe consolidations are happening more frequently than in past years.
While a delay of 20 minutes might not seem major in the grand scheme of a day, Zandri said it can mean being late to work in the morning or cause a student to arrive home too late to make it to a doctor’s appointment or extracurricular activity.
“If I've got to get to work and I'm standing there waiting for the bus to pick up my younger one … how long do I wait before I pick him up and bring him to (school) so I can make it to work on time,” he said.