Providence Report Warned About Busing Issues
Monday, September 23, 2013
Also, Providence City Councilman Sam Zurier, who was present at last week's community forum at the Jewish Community Center, has drafted a resolution urging the school department to open bidding to bus vendors besides the existing one, First Student.
"First Student has had leverage because previous contracts have stipulated that a vendor must garage its buses in Providence to qualify to bid. I have drafted a resolution the City Council will consider at its next meeting that would urge the School Department to dispense with this condition when the school bus contract goes out to bid next year. If there is competition among bidders, there will be a better chance to have the best possible company with a contract that ensures more accountability," wrote Zurier.
Zurier Calls for Changes to Bus Contract Process, Consultant Reports Concerns Over Monitoring
"Buses across the City have taken longer routes this year, due to consolidations the School Department implemented to achieve budgetary savings. As a result, children are spending more time on the buses, often resulting in late arrivals to school. The School Board President agreed to meet with the bus company and the bus route consultant to address these issues. As part of this discussion, I remembered not only my own difficulties with First Student (the bus company) as a parent, but also the lack of accountability we had with them when I was on the School Board because they were the only qualified vendor."
The consolidation of routes was a primary focus of a consultant report issued to the school department back in January, by Maryland-based Management Partnership Services, Inc.
The "Student Transportation Services Assessment" report, which offered route consolidation proposals as a means of budgetary reductions, commented on the role of bus monitors, which was called into question last Friday when parents at the Henry Barnard school said a monitor was not on their bus.
"While the current staffing levels and division of responsibilities are appropriate, we have a concern with respect to the organization now in place for managing on-board bus support personnel (PSSSO’s, teacher assistants, and specialized positions such as nurses). Typically, bus monitors, aides and the like are the responsibility of the contracted service provider (bus contractor), who provides the buses and the driving and assistance staff needed to operate them," said the report.
"The present bifurcated operation at PPSD, however, uses school district employees in these positions, while the drivers are bus contractor employees. Since the driving and driving assistance staff necessarily operate under the direction of the school bus contractor, it is operationally difficult, duplicative and costly to provide school district employees for this purpose and the supervisors who coordinate their schedules in conjunction with the bus contractor’s management staff."
The bus monitoring issue came into question last Friday, when parent Alana Bibeau told GoLocal the statement below
"Bus #62 from HBS, scheduled to arrive at the intersection of Hope and Summit at 2:45, arrived at 3:25 with no bus monitor. There has not been a bus monitor on Fridays at all since the school year began. When I called the transportation office and spoke with Kathy Hackett questioning the legality of this (we have a kindergartner, four first graders, a fourth grader, and a fifth grader at our bus stop), she told me that they were NOT legally required to have a monitor on the bus. When I read RI Gen. Law §16-21-1 to her, she said that they could get a variance if they wanted or needed to to get around that. She said she was furious and couldn't fathom why there wasn't today and has never been a monitor on our Friday afternoon bus, since she had recently hired a number of new monitors. She indicated she was heading down to the bus yard when she left PPSD to get an answer and asked me to give her another week to resolve it."
Parents -- and School Department -- Using Social Media to Increase Communications
"In a nutshell, we as a community of parents are challenging the City of Providence and PPSD to provide reliable and safe bussing to all of the city's children. Bussing students to and from school is a basic city obligation and we continue to be dismayed by the City's lack of response to these ongoing issues," said Weidner Greene.
"We are using social media and our Facebook page to bring together parents from every neighborhood of the city to collect relevant and real-time information about the current negligent state of affairs," she continued. "As we dig deeper, the issue becomes more complex, however, we are going to continue to push until we achieve transparency as well as a true commitment and response from PPSD and the Mayor's office."
The group posted Sunday evening that they were informed by the "PPSD contact Colleen Jermain" that someone would be at the bus yard on Monday -- and monitoring the situation.
"Tomorrow our team will be at the bus yard very early, and we will be keeping close watch monitoring the bus runs and activities. There are many of us - both from PPSD and the Mayor's office - that will be on the ground helping to ensure that our buses are on time and in compliance. We have set up an electronic data base and reporting system this weekend to more efficiently identify buses that are running late, and a messaging system to alert schools and families."
The school department recently released communications entitled "Transportation Update" for the month of September, in which it acknowledged the issues -- and what it is doing to address the situation.
The communication begins, "Since the beginning of the school year, Providence Schools have experienced difficulties with transportation. During the first two weeks of school, there were an unacceptable number of late buses, safety violations, customer service issues on bus yard phone lines, and RIPTA issues specific to Classical and Hope High Schools. We are acutely aware of the frustrations and inconvenience that these issues have caused to our families, and are working diligently to correct these matters."
Parents' Group Calls for Presence at School Board Meeting Monday Night
The group has posted that the Providence School Board is meeting Monday night, September 23 -- and has invited parents to come make their voices heard.
"We need a strong showing of parents from *all* schools to come and make their voices heard at this meeting! Three days after the meeting, we have seen no significant positive changes," the group wrote.
"Meeting will be on the 3rd floor of the Providence School Department’s administration building (address as listed)" -- 797 Westminster Street.
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