School Bus Issues Aired at BOE Meeting

Parents share their concerns, All Star cites traffic problems and the BOE calls for better performance.

For an hour and a half at last night’s Board of Education meeting, parents described their experiences with

Their complaints included:

  • students standing on buses
  • late pick-ups, drop-offs, and arrivals at school
  • leaving small children at stops without an adult present
  • overcrowding
  • children crossing the street after the bus has left
  • drivers neglecting to put out the stop sign that would alert drivers of children crossing
  • unmet schedules that parents said were not correct from the beginning and remain uncorrected

Parent Judy Dubois said her daughter was yelled at for having her feet in the aisle. Dubois said that her research has shown that bus seats can accommodate three small children or two adults. Add musical instruments under the seats and she believes there is no room on the bus for her 5’7” daughter.

Plus, she said, “The bus goes to Newtown Youth Academy to pick up 25 more kids.” 

Several parents complained that their children were on the bus for more than an hour. One mother complained that her 14-year-old was on the bus for an hour and 27 minutes, even though they live only 1.6 miles away.

According to Superintendent Janet Robinson, guidelines for the maximum time children should be on the bus should not exceed one hour. “We strive for 45 minutes,” she noted.

Some parents expressed panic when buses were more than an hour bringing their children home. Chairman of the Board of Education Debbie Leidlein asked All Star representatives, “What are you directing parents to do if their children are late?”

All Star Representative Richard Dufour said, “They can try to call, but the bus will come.” 

However, Robinson advised, “They can call All Star or, our people stay at the schools until the buses are cleared, so they can call the school.”

Roche asked Dr. Robinson to send out an email to the district to explain what the protocol is when a student's bus is late; who to call and how to get information.

Two students from Henry Abbott Technical School in Danbury spoke on their own behalf about their concerns that they will lose credit toward their graduation due to being late for school every day.  

All Star: Traffic is the Problem

All Star representatives blamed traffic for virtually every problem the buses have with getting students to school on time. 

Dufour said that all of the issues with getting the buses to the school are based on traffic. “The traffic drives the whole system,” he said.

Robinson announced that most of the traffic problems could be blamed on the loss of their experienced traffic guard, who left on the first day of school.  Instead, police officers have been put in place to guide the traffic flow of cars and buses into school parking lots. 

Robinson said that she spoke with First Selectman Pat Llodra and that new traffic officers are being interviewed this week.

“We lost someone with a lot of experience,” Robinson said, and explained that in the past, cars were not allowed into the lot before the buses. She added that for now, Plan B would be to have the buses pick up students earlier to beat the rush into the parking lot. 

The bus company issued a notice to parents that bus times will be five to ten minutes earlier than they have been. For some of the parents at the meeting, that meant having their children get on the bus before or close to 6 a.m.

All Star representative Richard Dufour said the company had made the decision to put out a blanket notice even though all buses would not be affected by the earlier pick up time.

Laura Roche, BOE vice-chairman, said changing bus schedules has an effect on the parents as well as the children. “That communication should have come from Janet," she said. "Children will be stressed. People will be late for their jobs.”

“Could it have been done better? Yes, it could,” Dufour said.

Dufour said that the volume of phone calls he is receiving is interfering with his schedule, and that he is spending 15 minutes with every parent he speaks with. Board member John Vouros suggested that Dufour hire assistance because he could not possibly manage all of the tasks he is juggling.

“That is an adult problem that is effecting the children,” Vouros said.

Parental applause followed, and Vouros continued, “It throws off the whole tone of what's going on in [the] classroom. They come in apprehensive, and it is not healthy for them, especially the young ones. Now we have Henry Abbott Tech students being marked down. This all has to change immediately.”

Leidlein asked for a report by the end of the week on the traffic guard, and told Dufour she wants updated bus runs to be posted on the website by Monday, which Dufour agreed too, with the exception of all of the new stops. 

Leidlein also asked for a review of tapes to be sure students are not standing when the bus is moving.  

Dufour said parents could expect the system to fall into place soon. “We are hoping a week from now.” 

Randy Pineau September 06, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Beth, Carey ... You both hit the nail on the head! It still baffles me ... The short sighted decision ... Unbelievable.
Obi-wan September 06, 2012 at 02:19 PM
IPN led b.o.e along with Janet can take the blame on this one. And to boot, the 4 bus reduction was baked into the cake. So for Janet to try and blame this bus fiasco on budget issues is just plain wrong and not fair. This was doomed from the start.
yoda September 06, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Obi wan, So right you are, also placing blame on the Police dept for Traffic issue is wrong! This all falls on JR!!!
yoda September 06, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Lisa, Do you want him dancing? What r u expecting? Half of you are on your cell phones driving right by him the other half is blaming him for the traffic. Yoda would not be happy!!
P Celtic September 06, 2012 at 03:00 PM
No offense to the crossing guard who left, but it he or she was not a wizard and should not be painted as a master of traffic without which all comes to a stand still. It is simple - there are at least four less buses this year. That was never mentioned when the competing bids and the price advantage of All Star was bandied about. I assumed, wrongly, that we were asking for bids that would keep the service provided level. A drop in service can always be considered, but you go in with your eyes open. I also heard that our BOE was told the buses would be air conditioned, I don't know if that made into the contract, where you would put such things, but the buses are not air conditioned. I don't care about air conditioning, but if I thought it was included in the price I would go ape when I did not get it. The whole thing is sad and pathetic. My jaw dropped when I learned the bus times and how we saved money by cutting buses without letting anyone know till the end of the summer...
debra pollack wollman September 06, 2012 at 04:35 PM
P Celtc-- completely agree (unfortunately). Anyone can provide lower cost by providing lower service. Even the O/Os could have done that, had they been given the opportunity, and it would certianly be a whole lot better than it is now. I was also shocked when I inquired about the length/duration of my daughter's route and was told "well you know we had to cut so many buses..." Really???? I guess so..... sad....
Kari Wright Rustici September 06, 2012 at 05:01 PM
@ Yoda - I am not blaming the Police this whole situation rests on JR but the fact that they just stand there and don't direct traffic and not even try to figure out what they are doing is making it worse is impossible. Me thinks you protest too much. All I am saying is there should be someone there with more experience then the officers they have sent there.
Kari Wright Rustici September 06, 2012 at 05:09 PM
JR is a poor excuse. How can she say that about the cars? How could you differentiate between teachers cars, students cars and parents! Ridiculous Statement! Been dropping my kids of for years on my way to work and have been frustrated in the past. Not because of the buses or crossing guard it was usually because of a parent doing something dumb like tring to make a left out of the middle school when it was all backed up and no where to go (Make a right)!!!
Carey Schierloh September 06, 2012 at 05:18 PM
P Celtic and Debra Wollman....to clarify, the bid allstar submitted said they would be able to cut 4 buses b/c having a central lot for the buses would make the routes more effecient. Ron Bienkowsi and some former BOE members argued the central lot was more efficient for routing and would save fuel. The paid consultant the adminstration hired agreed. This was all taken into account in deciding who to award the bid to. The O/O said they were wrong, but our opinion was discounted. But what do we know, we only had 80 years on the job. Eventually things will work out and settle down, but it will NEVER be the same.
Sue Vogelman September 06, 2012 at 05:25 PM
My son started at Reed School this year which gets out a 2:50 p.m. He was so excited to go on his first day. When he got home at 4:10 p.m. - LATER than he got home last year in the elementary school, he was NOT HAPPY!!! The bus situation is completely unacceptable, but I knew this was going to happen. It's been getting worse thanks to administration decisions (like adding time onto the school day, changing from 4 to 3 waves, getting rid of our owner operators even though the ENTIRE TOWN was against that, etc.) every year. He is leaving home an hour earlier each day this year and only getting home 10 minutes earlier now. That's ridiculous. Would you add 50 minutes to your commute and be happy with it?!!! We should all rise up and DEMAND it be fixed instead of just complaining online.
Sue Vogelman September 06, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Oh, and I am going to demand to see the accounts that show "all the money we saved" to allow my son to ride the bus for 50 minutes longer this year.
yoda September 06, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Then say that, I don't protest I like to give a different point of view. I believe that if less parents drove, then less traffic it would cause, although no one has faith in this new bus company, again this falls on JR, contact her! Let's see if she picks up the phone????
Sam Mihailoff September 07, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Ron keeps all receipts in shoe boxes...kind of appropriate since he documented a gazillion dollars on works boots. When asked about the figures, his reply was the "glitch" would have eventually been found....so GOOD LUCK seeing any vouchers, invoices, or record keeping on the All-Scar Transportation Conglomerate any time soon
Kari Wright Rustici September 07, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I don't believe there is one word in my statement that says I am blaming the police!! Chill out! I said they should send someone with more experience to direct the traffic, not someone who just stands there. The whole situation is caused by JR. A real travesty.
Frank wocheck September 07, 2012 at 03:14 AM
"We lost someone with a lot of experience,” Robinson said, and explained that in the past, cars were not allowed into the lot before the buses. She added that for now, Plan B would be to have the buses pick up students earlier to beat the rush into the parking lot" The entire delay issue was traced down to the resignation of a single crossing guard ? We should fire Janet and pay the crossing guard her salary and ever kid in Newtown would gain an extra 60 minutes of sleep. Its hard to believe that the highest paid town employee who holds a doctorate degree would make this statement. How sad that this is what we have become
Les September 07, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Janet is blaming the loss of one crossing guard for this mess. Pathetic!
Dawne Kornhaas September 07, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Carey, I don't understand how having a central lot would save on fuel when most of the o/o''s live nearby their routes? Bill Andras lived around the corner from me so all he had to do was drive a mile back instead of having to go all the way to Peck's lane. I know that wasn't the scenario for all o/o's but it was for most.
NewtownResident September 07, 2012 at 05:19 PM
How exactly does he intend to get the owner operators back? They've sold their buses and many of them have found new jobs - it's not as if these workers are just waiting for the chance to get this job back, they have lives.
NewtownResident September 07, 2012 at 05:20 PM
That solution is going to cost a heck of a lot more money; you'll need to increase the amount of buses and drivers.
P Celtic September 07, 2012 at 06:50 PM
I am no genius, but someone said that All Star claimed that having a central bus lot would save enough time and fuel to provide the same service the competing bid did with four less buses. Service in transportation, to me, includes time required with less time required being better, for the most part (I know about safety). This made sense to the BOE and consultant hired (another waste of money by the way). I will admit I am not genius and by nature skeptical, but I would really have to see those numbers to believe a central lot could save enough time to cut four buses. The pick up starts at the end of the route in the morning and must start from the school on the return. The bus drivers may need to get up earlier but some might live/start closer or further and it would average out. Did the comparison include where the Owner operators start from? I am wasting to many brain cells already. We can see the results. I have a bridge for sale I would like to show the consultant and the BOE. This is not a hub and spoke airline, it is a school bus service in a town. They needed a consultant? They needed the consultant to help push through there foregone conclusion. If the consultant said it is quicker I will see you at the bus stop at last years AM pick up time, hurray. Thanks for wasting our money BOE. Wholly mackerel, if they fell for that, or pretended to, who knows what else we are in for...
Les September 07, 2012 at 10:22 PM
So we are in the middle of yet another Janet mess. She should no longer be allowed to 'lead' our education system. Can't we pay her a partial buy out and end this now?
Carey Schierloh September 08, 2012 at 01:29 AM
P Celtic....YES YES YES....you are completely correct!!!! And no, there was no comparison between the central lot and where the O/O parked our buses. Really makes you scratch your head and wonder how anyone could believe a central lot could save money and fuel.
philip carroll September 08, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Claudia Cooper- Several years ago I helped the BOE recieve an EPA grant for pollution devices to be installed on the older buses. All buses now have pollution devices on/in their engine and exhaust systems.
philip carroll September 08, 2012 at 12:46 PM
cutting some buses was upfront and was part of the bid process Q & A. There are hundreds less children to transport. All the routes were changed by Allstar. I think the sport trip buses were claimed to have AC.
letsplay September 08, 2012 at 12:47 PM
It would have to be one jamming bake sale!!!!!
Hannah September 09, 2012 at 12:30 PM
I honestly feel that some of the blame here belongs to the taxpayers and voters of Newtown. Budgets have been reduced and the town/BOE were under severe pressure to cut-cut-cut. That does not excuse the poor implementation of this All-Star plan, but it's what got them interested in changing the bus service in the first place.
Kari Wright Rustici September 10, 2012 at 01:52 PM
I disagree with you 100%. Ron Beinkowski has been gunning for the owner operators since he left Ridgefield and came to Newtown. At the time this all started it was way before all the budget problems we were having in town. Always makes me wonder why he was so against the owner operators!! Hmmmm!! Food for thought!
Hannah September 10, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Kari--- yes, that's correct about Ron B's anti-O/O view, but he's been here for several years already. I believe that the budget issues of late are what made the BOE more interested in and accepting of such a change.
Jan Andras September 10, 2012 at 03:32 PM
As soon as Dr. Robinson arrived here, she said that she did not want to deal with an owner/operator bus system.
Sue Vogelman October 18, 2012 at 02:10 PM
That is indeed the way it was up to about 9 years ago - a four tier system. And the bus routes were shorter and much more efficient. As for cost, 99.9 percent of Newtown agreed to the higher costs to keep the owner operators but our administration refused to listen. Now they or more correctly she must indeed deal with the fallout and unfortunately so must our children.


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