Providence Parents Blast Busing Problems at School Board Meeting
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
The School Board was in turns both apologetic and sympathetic, as was Providence Superintendent of Schools Susan Lusi, who opened Monday's meeting by addressing the ongoing school transportation issues.
"I want to be clear, that while there have been improvements, it has taken too long," said Lusi, adding, "I apologize for the delay."
Henry Barnard parent Michele Meek, who helped organize last week's JCC forum following an incident where a school bus got lost, was one of a number of parents who testified Monday night as to the nature of the problems Providence families were encountering with buses, from lack of monitors to chronic lateness -- and was cautiously optimistic that the School Board would be proactive in responding to parents' concerns.
"I do believe that the PPSD board seems quite earnest in wanting to resolve these issues as soon as possible. We will have to wait and see for the results, and in the meantime we have our own system for logging complaints and for the community to reach each other which I think is essential," Meek told GoLocal. "This is about children's safety and children's education, and it is worth all of our time to focus on."
Meek wrote a letter recaping the meeting, which can be found here.
Issues Aired by Parents to School Board
Oliveira told the parents in attendance last night that they were facing an "empathetic board."
Superintendent Lusi began by noting to parents prior to hearing testimony that the school department was developing steps to address the transportation issues, including "aggressively" overseeing monitor attendance and discipline, as well as working to expand a pool of substitute monitors, and train an additional one to two employees per school to serve as monitors to be able to serve as substitutes if needed.
Following reports last Friday that two buses from the Henry Barnard school lacked monitors, parents spoke at Monday's meeting to both the monitor issue, as well as buses being late to school -- and in some cases, in recent days in reaction to events, being too early to stops.
Henry Barnard parent Amy Greenwald testified that her kids have never made it to school on time for the Pledge of Allegiance so far this year, due to buses arriving at school late. "The teachers have had to push schedules back... kids have already lost over 4 hours instruction," she noted, adding, "Over the year, they'll lose over 40 hours of instruction."
Pursuant to comments on the Facebook page, "Providence Parents Concerned About School Busses," the driver of one of the buses mentioned by a parent on the online forum came to Monday's School Board meeting to defend that she was doing the best she could in light of the circumstances.
"The reason I came here that (bus) 35 had been late during the first weeks of school. We're given the routes by the school department and we're doing the best we can," said Tanya de Jesus, noting, "There are more children, more stops, and I've tried to make arrangements.
She added, "My concerns are to get the kids to school safely. My bus is a wheelchair bus. There used to be 2 monitors, now there's 1," adding that the bus was often arriving late because she had to operate the wheelchair lift herself. "I hear the concerns of parents with not having enough monitors," which was met with applause in the audience.
Board Pledges Action, Meeting With Consultants
"We are working with First Student to be timely and responsive," added Lusi. A number of parents complained Monday of the customer service issues the transportation vendor, with one parent saying, "When you're calling, they're rude, and they don't want to help you."
In addition, both Lusi and Oliveira noted that the consultant who drafted the original transportation plan presented to the school department earlier in the year, which suggested route consolidations for cost savings, was being brought back in on September 30.
Potential 2014 Providence Mayoral candidate Brett Smiley, who was in attendance at last night's meeting, expressed to GoLocal that the current state of transportation problems facing the city were unacceptable.
"Situations like this frustrate everyone as they are entirely preventable. There is no excuse for not getting our students to and from school safely and on time," said Smiley.
"The recommendations suggested by the Superintendent tonight sound promising but it's regrettable they are being unveiled a month into the school year."
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