Superintendent Janet Robinson reported on Thursday evening that her office had only received two complaints about scheduling, neither worse than fifteen minutes off-schedule. "We even had some compliments on the drivers," she said.
Thursday's Report: The termination of the owner-operated school bus service has been a sore spot within the town since the more than $10 million, five-year contract was awarded to All Star Transportation last September. , and now, with the beginning of the school year, some Newtown parents worry their fears have been realized.
In an email to Patch, John Cortese wrote, “In nine years of our son attending Newtown Schools and riding the bus, we have never seen such challenges and off-scheduled arrivals and departures that the children of Newtown are experiencing. In fairness to our transportation department, I believe that any parent knows that transportation does absorb a disproportionate amount time and energy, but this is far worse then we have ever experienced or expected.”
An All Star spokesman says that the late pick-ups and drop offs are merely a matter of adjusting to a new routine.
“We had the buses coming in an hour earlier today than yesterday, and it is only going to get better,” Manager Edward Bryan said, checking off the buses on a clipboard as they arrived at the parking lot of 31 Pecks Lane, just after 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29.
But for at least one Newtown parent, the problems were not just about scheduling.
“There are rules we never had before. No music. No hugs. Our owner-operators knew our kids. There was a personal touch that is gone now,” Alice Mascher lamented.
According to Mascher, her high school daughter, who she said suffers a serious health problem, had stood outside for more than 30 minutes on the first day of school, waiting for a bus that never came.
Mascher said she then drove her daughter to school, but traffic was backed up to the high school for miles. “From Route 34 at High Rock to Mill Road wasn’t moving at seven in the morning,” she said.
More than one parent complained that buses either didn’t show up or drove right past them.
Rachel Faust, a mother of a fourth grader, complained that her bus stop is at the busy corner of South Main Street and Lovell. The only place for her to stand safely is on the grass, but the bus driver did not see her and drove right past her, she said.
Faust wanted to walk her son to the next stop, but, she said, her neighbor told her to keep off the grass and she was forced to walk with her child in the street.
“I feel so anxious knowing I have to stand on the street. My sister was hit by a drunk driver on a street corner,” Faust said, after she waited at the other end of the street for the afternoon run. Her son had not gotten off at his stop the first time, and he was dropped off last, as the driver was returning to the lot, at approximately 4:50 p.m.
One mother, who requested her name not be used, had a child on the same bus and said that she had been very impressed with the driver and her dealings with him over the last two days had been very reassuring.
She said that his manner of dealing with the children when they became too rambunctious was to stop the bus, and reprimand them gently with a pink bunny puppet. This was seen in the afternoon when the driver halted the bus twice to perform his routine. The children could be seen from outside the bus, cheering the bunny and raising their hands in enthusiastic compliance.
“The problem seems to be with the pick-ups at Reed Intermediate,” the woman said.
However, Mascher believed that judging by the traffic build up, the problems started with the high school and continued from there.
Superintendent Janet Robinson asked that parents remember that the first week of school can always have problems, and this year, because of budget cuts, she said they have had to cut back four buses.
"We are looking for as many good solutions as we can find," Robinson said. "We are speaking with All Star to resolve these issues. We want everyone to know we are not minimizing parent's concerns."
Not all of the complaints that Patch received revolved around scheduling. “" posted an that she had been yelled at for climbing the stairs to the bus in order to better hear what the driver was trying to tell her.
All Star Manager Bryan, who is a longtime Newtown resident and sits on the town’s Inland Wetland Commission, defended the drivers and said that many of them are Newtown residents.
“We hired close to 10 of the owner-operators. We did hire some professional drivers from other districts but of the 20 new drivers, 15 are from Newtown,” he said.
Bryan attributed the problems of the first day to bad weather and parents who drive their children to school on the first day.
“It’s a huge transition. We had buses trapped in traffic for half an hour the first day, but it will work itself out,” he said. "We are coordinating routes, getting people used to new stops. There were some late registrations and last-minute adjustments to the lists."
“Make sure your address is well marked with bold numbers and even reflective signs,” Bryan suggested for those the bus drivers missed. "As the drivers get used to the run, and parents get used to the times, it will all pull together."