A decade ago, there was a crisis involving school busing in Wallingford. You might consider crisis too strong a word, but my feeling is that when children are involved it’s a suitable description.
Part of the issue had to do with reconfiguration, which sent some pupils to different schools. One aim was to keep class sizes small. Everyone was trying to take a positive approach to change.
That was challenged by transportation troubles, which kept parents under the hot sun waiting for their children to arrive after school, and children who had to spend as long as 50 minutes in school buses.
You could chalk that up (forgive the pun) to the troubles of a first day of school, but it became quickly apparent that there was more involved.
At the time I called it a Kafka-esque experience, which you could say refers to finding yourself in an impossible situation not of your doing, with no way out.
So, some parents had to pick up their kindergarten-to-second-grade child at school, then race to pick up their grade three-through-five pupil before the bus let them out on the street, even though the bus with the 3-5 kid was at the K-2 school at the same time as the parent. All the slide rules in the world aren’t going to solve that one.
Plus, some kids were being let off at places where you don’t want kids being let off, as in along Route 5.
Now, thanks to some degree to local news reporting, as in the Record-Journal, the concerns of parents were quickly communicated to a wide audience, and just a few days later the school system took on the task of making significant changes to school bus routes and procedures. Eliminated were pickups and drop-offs along Route 5. Third-to-fifth grade pupils could also get off the bus at the partner K-2 school.
At one point it looked as though it might take as long as two weeks into the school year to find a solution, but School Superintendent Sal Menzo made sure it was taken care of as quickly as possible.
Now Menzo should take the same approach.
When pupils are crowded into school buses and spending too much time in them, and when parents are choosing to drive their kids to school because they can’t trust the school bus to be on time, it’s time to take action.
Town Councilor Jason Zandri, who has children attending Wallingford schools, brought it up the other day. He told the Record-Journal many parents had contacted him with stories about waiting too long for buses and driving their kids instead. Many parents have to work, of course, and not being able to trust the school bus adds anxiety where it should not be added. Getting along in the world is hard enough, you could say.
“I see an unprecedented amount of parents dropping their kids off at school,” said Zandri. “They are doing it because they can’t trust the bus schedule.”
There are mysteries that ought to be cleared up immediately. Dominic Barone, the school system’s business manager, was not able to tell the Record-Journal whether there has been an increase in bus route consolidations. From what I can gather, that has been pretty much affirmed by the observations of parents. And while the transportation contractor, Durham School Services, is reportedly willing to work with the town on the problem, there is yet to be a detailed account to the public of what’s going on.
That’s the first step, identifying what it is that’s clogging buses and delaying them, and then be transparent about what the plan is to fix it and reassure parents that they can trust the bus system.
It won’t do to wait until a new contract is awarded, which won’t be until spring. There are months of school at hand.
The school system needs to respond with the urgency it displayed 10 years ago. It’s really no more complicated than that.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or email@example.com