UPDATE: As Problems Persist, Bus Routes to be Changed Again
Superintendent of county Education Services Commission expects routes to be fixed in two weeks.
An update of the township's school bus routes, implemented this fall with the aid of a computer software program, was supposed to make bus service more efficient for those students eligible for busing.
The revised routes also were supposed to recognize changes in where populations of students live, and road changes, the Board of Education was told on Monday night by Hal Dunsavage, superintendent of the Somerset County Education Services Commission.
Instead, according to parents and board members who also are parents, schedules and routes had been thrown into disarray. The school's bus service is contracted through the Somerset County ESC.
ADDED: "Transportation at SCESC [Somerset County Education Services Provider, which provides bus service] is working with the software company to provide the quickest solution possible," School Business Administrator Nick Markarian said in an email on Wednesday.
As of Monday, some buses for middle school students were arriving 20 minutes earlier than usual, meaning most students miss that bus, while buses for Ridge High School—which normally arrive after the middle school bus—are showing up after 7 a.m.
At the meeting, board President Susan Carlsson said that high school in The Hills section of the township particularly have been seeing buses arrive at times past 7 a.m. "For the past three days"—since school started last Thursday—"they are getting to school late."
Board member Priti Shah said she had been told of bus stops that totally were missed by drivers, requiring parents to transport the entire bus stop of students. "What's being done about that?" she asked.
A persistent problem, she said, is, "Consistently, at the beginning of the year, drivers...didn't know the routes."
Other parents told of hearing stories of a kindergarten student being dropped off at the wrong location. There also were reports of clusters of four or five buses, particularly in The Hills, all passing by one corner and then backing up behind each other on the way to school.
Dunsavage said the updating had been performed with the aid of an outsourced company, which he said he will hold accountable for the problems. He said that within the next two weeks, most of the routes will be put back to pretty much what they were in the previous year, except in certain cases.
When the new routes are set, Dunsavage said new bus passes will be given to the school. School officials, including Superintendent Valerie Goger, said that the new passes will be issued at school, but she doesn't know yet exactly how they will be distributed.
He said the priority changes, to be made as soon as possible, are those that supposedly had young children crossing streets to reach buses, or routes and stops with other safety concerns. He said other routes will be examined for efficiency, after hearing parents complain that some buses left The Hills and heading up nearly to Bernardsville before heading to their school destination.
Dunsavage asked parents and board members to email the ESC with specific information, including the child's name, address, bus stop and the situation. He said parents would receive an answer back if they email BaskingRidge@sc.esc.k12.nj.us.
He said first-day-of-school bus problems were worsened by heavy rains, and flooding that made it impossible for some bus drivers even to get to work.
He also told the board that in future years, he will make sure that bus drivers go on a practice run before the first day of school. "This is not going to happen again next year. I can tell you that," Dunsavage told the school board and public.
One mother complained that a year ago September her child had been picked up and then she encountered the bus driver in Bernardsville. She said she had to lead him back to the Oak Street School.
"Why not spend $100 and give them a GPS?" she asked.