Parent upset with school bus system

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Editor, the News-Herald:

The purpose of this message is to convey the unsatisfactory operation of the City of Suffolk’s school buses. These problems go back to when my oldest daughter joined the second grade in 1998. The same problems continue today. Recent events have raised my level of concern to the point of contacting outside politicos to help with this plight.

From the beginning, in January of 1998 I moved to the Holland area of Suffolk. A Portsmouth native, this is the first time that I have lived in home area since I joined the USMC in 1989. My wife, 7-year-old daughter, and 6-month-old daughter moved with me. My 7-year-old daughter began attending school at Southwestern Elementary upon out arrival.

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Almost immediately we began having problems with the school buses. At least 10 times during the school year the bus would simply not show up. I don’t mind telling you that after watching my daughter stand in the cold rain that I got a little angry. We first attempted to call the school at which time they washed their hands entirely and placed all the blame at the door of &uot;the transportation department.&uot; Thus the principals of the schools absolved themselves of any worry. Their attitude was generally one of non-concern because they were not responsible for the buses.

Now we get to &uot;the transportation department.&uot; The head of &uot;the transportation department &uot; has been on a first name basis with my wife since 1998. Not to say they have a friendly relationship but more to say that they communicate often. For the last few years the head of &uot;the transportation department &uot; has been bemoaning the fact that they don’t have enough bus drivers and that was the basic reason for the poor performance. It didn’t take long to realize that the Mondays and Fridays before and after long weekends were most likely a day when the bus wouldn’t show. It seems that they have a little problem with absenteeism in &uot;the transportation department.&uot; So whenever a bus driver called in &uot;sick,&uot; another bus driver would have to run their schedule and then cover the &uot;sick&uot; bus driver’s route. At this point I should probably point out that the bus routes in Suffolk are very long. This is the way things have been until recently.

Last week my daughter, who now attends Forest Glen Middle School, stayed after school for a &uot;Builders Club&uot; meeting. She caught the activities bus to go home at 16:30. Around 17:30-18:00 my wife and I are beyond worried, we’re frantic. We have no idea where our daughter is at this point. So we call &uot;the transportation department&uot; to find out where the activities bus is and to ask why it’s not here yet. However, when we call there is no answer. At this point, my wife is driving to the school. We don’t know if our daughter has missed the bus, gotten picked up by god knows who, went home with a friend, all we know is that she was supposed to get on the 16:30 activities bus and come home. My wife gets to the school and there is no sign of anyone. &uot;The transportation department&uot; happens to be very near to my daughter’s school. There she finds a bus driver and has the bus driver contact someone from the office of &uot;the transportation department.&uot; Enter the assistant head of &uot;the transportation department,&uot; I’m not sure when the city hired an assistant head of &uot;the transportation department,&uot; but there he was. He informed my wife that at 18:00 &uot;the transportation department&uot; office close and everyone goes home. My wife asked specifically if they do this even when buses are still out and he answers in the affirmative. Eventually my daughter gets home and all is well, the activities bus finally arrives at 18:30.

Aside from the ongoing problem of buses not showing up to pick up the kids, I have some new concerns.

Number one, it is absolutely ridiculous for the office staff of &uot;the transportation department&uot; to be cutting loose and going home before all the buses have dropped all the kids off. Number two, it was expressed to my wife that the assistant head of &uot;the transportation department&uot; job was to filter out unwanted communications from reaching the head of &uot;the transportation department.&uot; If the city is having problems fielding enough bus drivers as they’ve been saying for three years now, do they really think that hiring an assistant head of the &uot;the transportation department&uot; to filter parental complaints is a fix for the problem? Obviously, it is not, it’s just a prime example of poor leadership. I believe this money could have been spent hiring more bus drivers and my finding some incentives for them to be &uot;sick&uot; less often. Now we’re still in the same boat we were in 3 years ago but now the head of &uot;the transportation department&uot; has a filter for parental complaints, I guess in his mind everything must now be running perfectly.

Michael P. Gizara Jr.