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All Star Buses Off To A Rocky Start: UPDATE

Some parents are not happy with the new bus company's performance during the first days of school, but All Star says it is just a matter of adjusting to a new routine.

 

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." 

John B August 30, 2012 at 06:57 PM
So far All Star has been a-ok in my book. They get a pass for the first day. Our driver is friendly and has been on time now the last two mornings.
Vincent August 30, 2012 at 07:39 PM
The problem is not the weather or the traffic, but he poor attitude and poor planning on the part of All Star management.
Bob Attanasio August 30, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Another predictable editorial designed to throw gasoline on the fire. At least the National Enquirer gets it right occasionally. Oh my god - the clocks are changing again - what will we do?
Celeste August 30, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Bus came right on time this afternoon. Looks like they are working out the kinks. Not Bad.
Len Destin August 30, 2012 at 09:07 PM
If I'm not instantly satisfied with 100% perfect service I'm gonna vent and rant and post everywhere online until I've made absolutely certain that everyone knows that I'm upset. I tell ya the whole world is going down the drain... more Chardonnay? Why yes of course...
Richard Hooker August 30, 2012 at 10:53 PM
THIS IS WHAT YOU GET. Unreal on how this town absolutely REFUSED to listen to the people and did what THEY wanted, just to save a buck? Oh but what happened to the Full Time Kindergarten? Unbelievable, but expected... Maybe NOW the town will realize what they have done, getting rid of the LOCALS who they should be SUPPORTING, and putting these HACKS in place to take care of our children. Newtown Board members should be ashamed of themselves!
Dont lie to me Janet August 31, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Whoah! Nice try! 4 busses were cut by All Star so to state it is due to budget cuts is just wrong.
Allison Koziol August 31, 2012 at 02:23 AM
I've heard plenty of horror stories from kids and parents alike such as: overcrowding to the point where a high schooler was forced to sit on the floor; and the high school run where the kids have to get off at the middle school and get on another bus (day 2 there was no second bus). On the flip side, the issues my kids have faced have been quite small thanks to the drivers, Fran McCutchen and Barbara Buck...Oh...what do you know??? They've both been driving my kids for years since they're former Owner/Operators. Maybe we shouldn't have fixed what wasn't broken...YA THINK????
Richard Hooker August 31, 2012 at 02:35 AM
so...4 busses were cut...so what? that is due to the COMPANY, not due to the TOWN.
Richard Hooker August 31, 2012 at 02:44 AM
and AGAIN, the busses were 30 min LATE today. Wake up, people! This is just a prelude of things to come!
Sam Mihailoff August 31, 2012 at 10:11 AM
Janet changing a story??? Not the leader....oh, why not read the first version....here ya go↓ nothing to do whatsoever with budget constraints...occured way before budget...it was Dufour aka All-Scar's experience and observation of their own efficiency and also that their buses were 77 passenger vehicles...Dance your way out of that one Mis Robinson http://newtown.patch.com/articles/educaton-board-approves-all-star-contract#pdf-8013021
Caring About Newtown August 31, 2012 at 10:15 AM
I agree! They should have left the routes as is and then tweaked it needed to be. I'm sure the BOE had something to do with it too! My 2 children attend Henry Abbott, went from 1 bus leaving the high school to 2 busses. 1 leaves middle school and 1 leaves the high school! My 18 year old said "it's so stupid because there are only 5 kids on the middle school bus and 10-12 on the high school bus. Not to mention they are using the Big Busses to take us to Danbury, wasting fuel and they don't even drive the speed limit on 84.". Not to mention they have been late to school every day.
Mary McH August 31, 2012 at 12:25 PM
My daughter's high school bus has been 10 minutes late at least every morning and yesterday (Thursday) it didn't come until 7:02, about 30 minutes late. I was given the excuse that the bus broke down (it is allegedly a new bus). Today, again 10 minutes late but sat at the HS for 15 minutes waiting to unload and they all missed homeroom again. My other daughter rides a Reed/St. Rose bus which has not been less than 30 minutes late all week. They are being picked up at the time when they should be arriving at school. Sorry, haven't seen the buses this bad since we switched from the 4 tier to the 3 tier system 9 or 10 years ago.
Mary McH August 31, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Oh, and by the way, I complained to Ms. Robinson early yesterday that the Reed bus was consistently 30 minutes late so I don't know how she can say the only complaints were regarding buses that were only 15 minutes late.
Cathy August 31, 2012 at 01:00 PM
There isn't one bad thing I could say about the new bus company - when I had questions they were asked, and when I had a concern it was addressed - no everything is not perfect it is the 4th day of school!!! Unfortunately even if All-Star was doing everything perfect there are always going to be those that refuse to be pleased in this situation - Also, until the traffic issue by the High School is worked out the buses (no matter the company) are fighting an uphill battle getting the system on-time ....
Karen Kravec August 31, 2012 at 01:02 PM
My only concern is over-crowding. My son's homeroom starts at 7:50 and he's getting picked up around 7:47ish so he's late every day. In the afternoon's he would be the last drop off and that means he would spend an hour and ten minutes on the bus. Since he's six we juggle our work schedules to pick him up at school, that is simply too long a bus route for a six year old (really for anyone).
Po Murray August 31, 2012 at 01:08 PM
http://www.newtown-ct.gov/Public_Documents/NewtownCT_FinanceMin/I036295CB.0/BOF%203-14-12%20mins.pdf "Mr. Bienkowski confirmed that two (buses) could be reduced" however four buses were removed.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com August 31, 2012 at 02:38 PM
isn't enrolment down by 100. Thats all I read about from the LC members, BOF and new BOE members, so would we not also have less need for bus seats?
Anonymous August 31, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Yesterday on my way To work I saw a bus attempt to pick up kids at 4 different stops ( where there were no more children waiting) has anyone thought about the fact that more kids are now being driven in to school because of their uncertainty Of the company - and that is why the buses are coming closer to being somewhat on time. And I watched a child standing up his entire bus ride I school- how is that safe? It wasn't a space issue but the driver just didn't do anything about it? Safety is my first concern - and I don't feel it here- our owner operator the last year and a half took extra special care of our kids and we miss that!
Caring About Newtown August 31, 2012 at 07:57 PM
You were lucky. I called to ask a few questions and got an answer to 1 and then I was dismissed. Then when calling the 2nd number they were even ruder. The only one down at All-Star who'd listens to the questions and concerns is an ex-owner operator Joan Baumgart (?). Joan should be the manager there! And my opinion is, that the parents who are driving their kids because they are upset about the change, should let the change take place..this might eliminate the extra congestion and extra cost with having 3 cops supervising!
Caring About Newtown August 31, 2012 at 08:01 PM
On my way to work I saw a bus come up a hill to a stop sign. Continue to pull out in the intersection of a 4 way stop, and stop in the middle of the road to pick up a Reed student! Yup it's really safe over on Castle Meadow Rd!
Mom of 3 September 05, 2012 at 02:17 AM
I understand the first few days of school the buses have to work out the kinks, but this is the second week of school. Our son is five and still on the bus for an hour going to school. Went to All-Star to address this issue and they assured me the problem was fixed. So when he got picked up again today at 12:00 the bus did not arrive at school till 12:55pm. Never mind coming home on the bus is also 55 minutes to an hour from when school lets out. I'm sorry this is unacceptable All Star ADD MORE BUSES. BOE why did you try and fix something that wasn't broken. I hope you realized what a mess you have caused.
G September 05, 2012 at 07:57 AM
Last week I saw a bus pull out of the Middle School lot, take a right onto Queen St., and then stop directly in front of the school (on the street). The red lights went on, the arm came down, etc , and 2 kids got out and walked across the street. Is there really a Middle School bus stop directly in front of Middle School? These kids could have just walked from the front door (or any door) of the school to the crosswalk (where a crossing guard was on duty), and crossed the street to get home. Plus, the kids would be home sooner - they wouldn't have to sit on the bus for however long just to get dropped off 50 yards later. It didn't look like this was a mistake. I saw the bus pull out of the MS parking lot, and then it stopped directly in front of the school. And 2 kids got off the bus, and walked to the west side of Queen St., then appeared to go up a side road (not sure what the name of that road is). This was very bizarre. Hopefully it was a one-time event. Why would 2 kids get on a bus at the side of the school, be dropped off at the front of the school, and then cross the street to walk, I presume, to their homes?

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