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School Bus ScheduleOff To A Rough Start



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School Bus Schedule

Off To A Rough Start

By Larissa Lytwyn

Several factors, including the shift from a four- to three-tier busing system, the recent Blackout of 2003, and a tractor trailer accident on Mt Pleasant Road all contributed to numerous bus delays during the town’s first day of school last week, according to school district’s transportation office.

An early-morning accident on August 27 in which a tractor-trailer rolled over and spilled 50,000 pounds of garbage stopped through-traffic on Route 6 for almost 24 hours. School buses were unable to reach at least four roads, said Cathy Hydeck, assistant to Transportation Director Mary Kelly. “I called the police department at 11 am and they said they couldn’t clear the area for another eight hours,” she said.

Ms Hydeck proceeded to contact families whose locations made it impossible for buses to reach them. “I told them that, unfortunately, they had to make their own travel arrangements that morning, and later, for afternoon pickup,” she said.

The chaos, she continued, was considerable. “There is a misperception that the transportation department consists of Mary Kelly ‘and her staff,’ which, presumably, would be quite large,” she noted. “But there are only two people in that office: me and Mary Kelly.”

Further complicating matters was a family emergency that prevented Ms Kelly from being in the office on August 27. “It wasn’t a good day,” said Ms Hydeck.

Ms Hydeck said that while the combined busing of middle and high school students was “going well,” she expressed concern that there is only one crossing guard available during the schools’ arrival times. “We have one at the middle school and no one at the high school,” she said.

Despite appealing to the senior center and other local establishments, Ms Hydeck said that the police department still hasn’t found someone. “I hope they find someone soon,” she said.

The school board’s decision to shift the bus schedule from a four- to three-tier system resulted in brand-new bus routes this year. Reed Intermediate School, previously the latest school on the schedule, is now in the middle tier. After Reed children are dropped off, the drivers must immediately begin taking home the elementary school students.

“Because of the blackout, the Reed clocks were about five or ten minutes slow,” said Ms Hydeck. This caused a later student dismissal and later pickup for elementary students.

Some buses reached Head O’ Meadow School nearly 45 minutes after its 3:22 pm dismissal time.

Joan Plouffe, a Head O’ Meadow parent, said that her first grade daughter Jessica did not return home until 4:30 pm August 27. “She’s only five and a half years old,” said Ms Plouffe. “It’s a very long day for her.”

Ms Plouffe said that Jessica’s love for school is a primary factor in helping her family survive the tough schedule. The school day for Head O’ Meadow, Sandy Hook, and Middle Gate elementary schools being at 9:10 am this year, far later than last year’s 8 am start.

Ms Plouffe described the extra hour in the morning as useless. “In the past, my children just got up and went to school,” she said. “Now they are getting anxious about the school day.” The morning buses, she said, have been coming on time.

In addition to the afternoon bus delays, Ms Plouffe said she finds the school schedule itself “disturbing.”

“Everything is the opposite of where it needs to be,” she said.

Wendy Leon-Gambetta, a longtime proponent of later school start times, said she hopes the combined start times for the middle and high school only lasts for the 2003–04 year. “It would be great if they flipped the last tier with the first tier,” she said.

Ms Leon-Gambetta, parent of children in Head O’ Meadow School, Newtown Middle School, and Newtown High School, said that her son in Head O’ Meadow, though generally getting home around 4 pm, recently arrived home at 4:30 pm. While she noted that her middle school child has a difficult time getting up in the morning, she said she is committed to staying positive.

“Head O’ Meadow School called me to let me know that the bus was going to be late the day that my son got home at 4:30 pm,” she said. “Which I really appreciated.”

  Bus schedule delays topped the agenda of the school board’s September 2 meeting, a response to concerns that have been inundating the homes of school board members as well as the town’s Department of Transportation, Superintendent’s Office and even First Selectman’s office.

“We even had a parent volunteer their time last week to help us field calls,” said Superintendent of Schools Evan Pitkoff.

Transportation Director Mary Kelly provided a detailed explanation behind recent bus delays, emphasizing the importance of Reed Intermediate students being dismissed on time.

“We are often waiting in the school yard for the bell to dismiss the [Reed] students,” said Paul Miles, owner and operator of bus 18. He said he was among several owner operators and drivers who have recently met with Ms Kelly to discuss strategies for earlier dismissal and other issues affecting bus schedules.

Shuttle busses will now be implemented for St Rose students in the mornings, said Ms Kelly. During the afternoon, the St Rose students will be divided between their own buses and buses ridden by Hawley students. This, Ms Kelly said, should ease some of the congestion and make it easier for buses to reach Sandy Hook, Head O’ Meadow and Middle Gate students on time.

Currently, Reed Intermediate’s approximately 900 students are dismissed in gradual waves. The process, said Mr Miles, has been historically lengthy.

Legislative Council member Joseph Borst, a former bus driver for Brookfield schools, believes that all students can be dismissed at once if the students are closely monitored when both exiting the building and finding their buses.

Mr Miles stated that students are quick learners and should be expected to find their buses fairly easily. “I told the kids on the first day that I was always going to be in the first or second slot,” he said. “And now they make a beeline straight for my bus.”

Ms Kelly said that the problems should be resolved within a few days, certainly not weeks or months.

She plans to provide an update of the situation during the school board’s next meeting, September 9.

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