WESTFIELD, NJ – Complaints of school bus drivers who did not know their routes, students dropped off blocks from their correct stops, buses arriving too late or too early at schools and one bus route with 17 stops, dominated the Westfield Board of Education meeting on Tuesday evening.
Angry mothers said their children were left at the opposite side of Mountain Avenue and at such places as the Shop-Rite on North Avenue, far from their correct stops, on the first day of school last week, and many of the bus drivers were not even familiar with their routes.
Diana Dobosiewicz of 420 Harding Street said there are 46 children on her child's bus route, but the bus that showed up on the first day of school only was able to hold 15 students, forcing the driver to leave students behind. This meant some parents had to take time off from work to drive children to school and those who could not be accommodated in private cars were left standing at their bus stops, she added.
Dobosiewicz noted parents were told two years ago when schools were redistricted that they would be accommodated and this did not happen.
In addition, she said, on the first day of school, school officials failed to call her back, as promised, after she aired her complaints.
On Tuesday, Superintendent of Schools Margaret Dolan agreed parents should not have to worry that students were being left behind by school buses. When school officials received the complaints about the smaller bus, however, according to Dolan, another bus was sent back to pick up the students.
Parent Marie Guarnuccio of Michael Drive said her son came home from Edison Intermediate School at about 5 pm on the first day of school due to the length of his bus commute--about 47 to 50 minutes each way to and from school.
She added the “E-7 route”, which
includes 17 stops, “is too long for commuting to and from an in-town school. I
looked at the NJ Transit bus schedule and it would only take five minutes
longer for my son to commute to New York City.”
Acting School Business Administrator Vincent Yaniro replied there had been “an internal miscommunication at the bus company on the first day of school” and drivers employed by the vendor (Vogel Bus Company of Roselle) did not take practice routes before the first day of school as promised by Vogel.
Since that time, he said, the driver has been replaced and the school district will look into revising the 17-stop route.
Parent Cindy Smith said it was unacceptable that bus drivers did not do practice runs before the first day of school’ her child was dropped off on the side of Mountain Avenue--one of the town's busiest roadways--opposite from where their home is located.
Dobosiewicz also said the district should have a single bus for gifted and talented students who come from various areas of town to go to Roosevelt School rather than having the gifted and talented bus combined with one for Washington School students.
Dolan replied the bus routes would be reviewed but parents should not expect the district to correct all the errors at once. She also said they would look into reassigning the 15-passenger bus to another route.
The superintendent also promised to look into a claim by Juliana Allocco of Drummond Road that gifted and talented students were being picked up in front of their homes.
“There should not be different rules for different kids,” she said.
Another parent said the safety of students was compromised when drivers did not know the routes and were driving through congested traffic in midtown Westfield. She suggested possibly adding a stop at the Westfield Library, which is in a less congested area, where students will be kept occupied until they are able to get home.
Several school board members said what happened with the buses was unacceptable, and members Ann Cary and Mitch Slater apologized to the mothers.
While Cary said the board should authorize Dolan to “hire another bus tomorrow if it is needed,” Slater said if Vogel was not performing perhaps the district should look into providing its own bus service.
“Common sense was not applied on both sides,” board member David Finn said, adding that the board should get a financial analysis of the cost of providing an additional bus.
Yaniro disputed a claim by the bus company that it was given only a list of stops without indications where the bus should stop in order to let students out safely.
“We did create the routes to the best of our ability,” he added.
Board member Ginny Leiz said while the district was “cash strapped” when the routes first were created, it now had additional funds that could be applied to fixing the routes.
Yaniro suggested the fourth route could be set up as an emergency route, with the permission of the Union County executive superintendent of schools, until a formal bidding process for the route was completed.
Board President Julia Walker also said all parents should be notified by E-mail in groups organized by bus route or some other system so that would all be apprised of bus problems at the same time.
Finn announced that a meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, September 14, at 4pm with himself, Slater, Yaniro, Vogel management and other school officials to address the problems.
In another action at the meeting, the board heard a presentation by Mark Friedberg of the Parent Teacher Council Technology Committee on its proposal to provide a more effective information technology program in the town's schools.
He said the ratio of students to computers in Westfield has gone from about 5.4 to 9 students per computer due to budget constraints.
In order to get the ratio near the state average of 3.0 students per computer, he said, the committee was recommending replacement of computers more than four years old and purchase of new computers to maintain the ratio.
He estimated to cost for this program at $500 to $1,000 per student and said this would add a five-year life to most computers in the district.
In addition, Friedberg said, the district's wireless network should be redone at a cost of $150,000 to $200,000 to make the network more accessible by mobile devices and give it a lifespan of about seven years.
The committee, he added, recommended a line item in the school budget to pay for the upgrades supported by fundraising by committee members.
The school body also heard presentations on the teaching of students about 9/11 and the more accurate and informative Safe Kids Union County fire safety education program being provided at no cost to the school system by the Westfield Fire Department and Children's Specialized Hospital.
Board member Jane Clancy also announced that the New Jersey Agricultural Society has selected Tamaques School for a Learning Through Gardening grant that will enable the school to expand its garden program from the second grade to all grade levels--from the first through fifth grade--at the school.