Several Newtown Board of Education members criticized Chairman Debbie Leidlein Tuesday for what they described as disregarding board procedures and state law when she held several ad hoc meetings with the school bus company to iron out schedule and route problems.
The board members’ complaints weren’t about the result of the meetings, which helped iron out problems getting students to school.
Some routes for middle school students are still too long, and at least one parent complained about it at the board’s meeting Tuesday, but School Supt. Dr. Janet Robinson said most of the problems that generated many complaints at the beginning of the school year have abated since the bus company, All-Star Transportation, added some extra buses.
The problem is, according to board members, Leidlein did not have the authority to hold meetings with the bus company or to give the company the OK to add the buses. BOE members Richard Gaines and William Hart advised her that it not only violated school board procedures, but also the state Freedom of Information Act, which requires that meetings be given proper public notice.
Leidlein said school board members Laura Roche and John Vouros also sat in at her talks with the bus company, but at Tuesday's meeting she offered no other explanation for allegedly overstepping her authority. Hart noted that violating the FOI Act could result in legal trouble for the board.
Hart said he was also unhappy that Leidlein gave the company permission to add buses. Roche said the company’s contract calls for 42 school buses and it was not running that many, but Hart replied that the contract had unit pricing, which means the decision had budget implications that should have gone before the whole Board of Education at a public meeting.
Earlier, during the public participation portion of the meeting, parent Desiree Galassi of Huntingtown Road said she still wasn’t satisfied with her children’s school bus schedule.
Her two high school-age sons and her middle school-age daughter must leave the house earlier than in previous years, yet still get to school later, sometimes missing home room.
“I don’t think it’s a question of All-Star. I think it’s a question of the budget,” Galassi said.
The bus schedule problems started after the company responded to school board budget concerns by cutting the number of buses for Tier 2 of the schedule, the buses serving Reed School and St. Rose School.
Robinson said Tier 1 serves the high school and middle school, which have a combined enrollment of 2,600 students. Tier 2, on the other hand, has only about 1,200.
Although most of Newtown school bus routes still averaged about 45 minutes, some of the Tier 2 routes stretched to well over an hour, prompting noisy complaints from parents at the board’s regular meeting in September.