After two Wading River parents publicly complained about overcrowded buses last week, Superintendent Nancy Carney now plans to update the school board on the district’s transportation system this Tuesday.
The parents told the school board at its Sept. 9 meeting that children are sitting in the aisle on bus number 120 because there aren’t enough seats.
“You can’t accommodate three children to a seat,” Allyson Matwey said. “My son is in sixth grade. He’s got two more years on that bus. Kids are getting bigger — not smaller.”
Doreen Moore, whose children are assigned to the same bus stop, also addressed the school board and said students frequently arrive late to class, all because of overcrowding issues on the bus.
The Hulse Avenue and 17th Street bus stop is second-to-last on the morning run to Pulaski Street School and the middle school, Ms. Matwey said.
The district investigated the same bus complaints last year after parents said their children were forced to sit in the aisles or stand on the way to school, Ms. Carney later told the News-Review. She added that bus drivers are trained not to drive the bus until all students are properly seated. Ms. Moore claims that situation is part of the reason why the bus is frequently late.
Ms. Carney said an administrator rode the bus last Thursday and found “there was ample room for everyone.”
There were 25 Pulaski students and 25 middle school students on that run, she said, adding that the bus’s capacity is 66 students with three students per seat.
“There were some students who were unwilling to share their seats with anyone else, despite the insistence of the bus driver,” Ms. Carney said. “This will be addressed.”
If the district were to reduce bus capacity to two students per seat — totaling 44 students per bus — then the district would “need to purchase many more large buses and hire many more drivers,” she said.
The district has had its own transportation department since the 1950s. When asked if it had conducted a study to determine the feasibility of contracting with an outside bus company instead of maintaining its own transportation system, Ms. Carney stated: “There is no legal pathway to the district eliminating the transportation department and contracting the services out.
“This is because the district and the CSEA labor union have agreed that the job of transporting students belongs to employees of that unit,” she said. “The only way to end that arrangement is if both sides were to agree to it — and we feel there is no chance of that happening.”
The current budget allocates about $4.1 million for 70 drivers, 20 monitors, five office staff employees, five mechanics and a transportation supervisor, as well as any overtime those employees accrue, she said.
In May, voters approved a $3.98 million bond for bus purchases. Ms. Carney has said the district will use the funds to purchase about 35 large propane-powered buses and five handicapped-accessible vans over a five-year span.
In 2007, district voters authorized a program to purchase school buses each year, retiring old vehicles in the process. The latest bond proposal was made since that five-year program ended and the related funds were exhausted, Ms. Carney said.
In addition to those investments, the district is in the process of relocating its crumbling bus barn.
Ms. Carney said the district has replaced most stops in front of a student’s individual home with “corner stops” at which groups of children gather. The district has also altered each bus driver’s schedule to “institute quarter-hour increments to their assigned work rather than 30-minute increments.”
“This has resulted in a strong savings for the taxpayers,” she said of the changes.
Ms. Carney said a cost analysis of the district’s transportation options will be discussed at the next school board meeting, which takes place Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. at Phillips Avenue Elementary School.