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.” 

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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