Schools discuss bus issues

Published 10:38 pm Thursday, September 12, 2013

Suffolk’s School Board altered bell times at Nansemond River High School during a meeting Thursday where superintendent Deran Whitney responded to transportation issues that have plagued the district in the first two weeks of school.

Board members voted unanimously to start and end classes at Nansemond River 15 minutes earlier, a plan proposed by Whitney.

Whitney said it would alleviate issues facing elementary schools in the city’s north, where students are often not arriving in time for classes, and getting home up to two hours after the final bell.

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Parents are blaming the transportation issues on new bell times introduced this month —four schedules instead of the previous two — while Suffolk Public Schools officials say other factors have contributed.

Among other functions, the staggered schedules are intended to save money by reducing the number of contracted drivers.

“The bottom line is, some of the routes are taking much longer than we anticipated when we designed the plan,” Whitney said.

Since classes resumed earlier this month, transportation officials have made “about 1,000” changes to routes to try to fix issues, Whitney said.

Meanwhile, the superintendent reported, the district has 16 fewer than the 145 drivers it would like to have, meaning more drivers are having to negotiate unfamiliar routes.

“Some of the changes have worked for us,” Whitney said, though adding, “We still have a ways to go.”

“There will be continued adjustments that need to be made,” he said.

The new times at Nansemond River will begin Wednesday, Sept. 18.

Two parents outlined their own concerns during the meeting. Christine Parker said the new schedule for Nansemond River High School wouldn’t help the situation at her child’s school, Hillpoint Elementary.

“I live literally five minutes from Hillpoint Elementary, and my child gets home at 4:30,” she said.

“I don’t want to be a pain in the rear end; I’m trying to get some answers.”

Kristen Outlaw-Hartman said she has started collecting her child herself in the afternoons. “I pick up my son at Driver Elementary with a long line of parents who have had to take off work,” she said.

“Teachers are babysitting instead of using their time to prepare for the next day.”

Whitney also responded to concerns that the district is ignoring complaints by not answering phones.

“I want to assure you the phone is not taken off the hook,” he said.

An online form for parents has been “very helpful,” he said, with 150 to 200 concerns lodged.

“While I know parents are still frustrated … we are on it, and will continue to work on it,” he said.