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Middletown Transcript
  • School bus issues concern some Appoquinimink parents

  • Several parents across the Appoquinimink School District have made similar observations since school restarted just a few weeks ago, mainly directed at the Wilmington based bus company Advanced Student Transportation, which is contracted by the Appoquinimink School District.
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  • When Amar Tailor's son came home from his first day of kindergarten Aug. 27, he said the five-year-old appeared sweaty and exhausted.
    Townsend resident Kristi Lester said that her two middle school aged children stood at the bus stop for more than an hour Sept. 5.
    Several parents across the Appoquinimink School District have made similar observations since school restarted just a few weeks ago, mainly directed at the Wilmington based bus company Advanced Student Transportation, which is contracted by the Appoquinimink School District.
    "My son now tells me that he doesn't like to ride the bus because he gets all sweaty," Tailor said.
    The Middletown Transcript contacted Advanced Student Transportation Sept. 6 and was told by two different employees that the company had no comment about the situation.
    The employees would not give their names.
    Lester said that her children are supposed to be picked up between 6:10 and 6:20 a.m., but at 7:15 a.m. Sept. 6, again, no bus had arrived.
    Like other parents, she had to drive her kids to school.
    The Lester children aren't the only ones waiting for long periods of time at the bus stops.
    Some parents have said that their kids' buses have arrived more than an hour late on some days.
    The school district is working on fixing the problem, said transportation supervisor Gregg Tulowitzky.
    Some of these issues can be attributed to a loss of nearly half a million dollars in state money.
    The district lost nearly $500,000 in state funding this year, which has affected its transportation department, he said.
    "As a result in the reduction of state funding, it was critical to maximize the efficiency of our bus routes," Tulowitzky said.
    The district's 46 bus routes are handled by outside contractors, including McCain and Advanced Student Transportation.
    Thirty-four of the routes have been contracted to Advanced Student Transportation. The company needed to have 30 drivers on hand to serve the Appoquinimink School District, but only got 17; so they had to fill the rest of the positions with substitutes or brand new drivers.
    "For now, they're using Wilmington operation drivers until their Middletown drivers are trained and licensed," Tulowitzky said.
    Some of these newer or transplanted drivers either did not know the area or were driving their routes in Appoquinimink for the first time in August, which is why they may have gotten lost, he said.
    "Almost half of the drivers are either brand new to the company or to the area," Tulowitzky said, " and that combined with new routes and so many things happening this summer – it was like the perfect storm for a lot of complaints."
    Page 2 of 3 - Some parents have also noticed that the buses are more crowded than in previous years.
    On the first day of school this year, Ruth Tucker said that she pulled her triplets off of the bus because it was so crowded when they got on and that they were unable to find seats.
    "The bus driver drove away with them still standing up," she said. "They were still standing by the next stop."
    State law allows buses transporting students from kindergarten through the sixth grade to seat up to 72 students, Tulowitzky said.
    This means seating three to a seat.
    There are more than 150 more students in the district this year than last year.
    In previous years, most buses transported around 35 kids per route, but with the district's growth and the cuts in funding, routes have had to be conjoined.
    "As a result of having more riders on each route, the ride time for routes has grown longer," Tulowitzky said. "However, no bus is scheduled to have students riding longer than 60 minutes."
    This was something that Tailor said bothered him.
    Tailor, who lives in the Estates at Dove Run, said that his son's school is about two miles from their home, but the bus ride is 45 minutes each way.
    "I hardly think it is fair for children to have such a long bus ride," he said.
    When the children came home and told about their experiences riding the school buses, some parents became even more concerned.
    "All of the children were threatened with write ups if they did not 'get their feet out of the aisle'," Tucker said. "However that could never happen with such a crowded bus."
    Tucker said that some of the children have come home saying that the driver speed and use their cell phones behind the wheel, but that she hasn't seen it for herself.
    The contract with Advanced Student Transportation was approved in July by the district's Board of Education.
    "[Advanced Student Transportation] got the last buses in the week before school started," Tulowitzky said. "A lot of them were spare buses, and not brand new. It wasn't possible to get 34 new buses in two months time. They did everything they could."
    The first day of school was a tough opening, Tulowitzky said. Three elementary school students got on the wrong buses, but fortunately made it home safely.
    There have been problems with McCain too, he said.
    One bus broke down and another was involved in a crash the first day of school. There were three reported injuries in the accident Aug. 27 near Noxontown Road.
    Page 3 of 3 - "Our number one key is safety," Tulowitzky said.
    He also said that complaints some have made about new bus stop locations district wide will be reviewed next week and addressed as quickly as possible.

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