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Bumpy start for buses

Sat., Sept. 6, 2008

Tardiness, communication problems plague first week of school

Karl Boettner’s daughter stood outside Tuesday morning, waiting for the bus. It was her first day of middle school and would have been her first day taking the bus to school.

Instead she just waited. And waited.

“It was frustrating for her not to have a bus show at all, and furthermore to not have any explanation,” said Boettner, who – like many parents in the Spokane school district this week – ended up driving his daughter to school.

Many parents and students were frustrated with late buses, changing routes and a lack of information as Spokane Public Schools switched bus companies for the first time in 25 years. School officials said many of the problems were resolved by Friday.

“There are issues that one would expect when someone new comes in after that long,” district spokeswoman Terren Roloff said, “and also first-week issues that are normal, actually, every year.”

The problems for the new bus company, Durham School Services, were more about communication than transportation. Phone lines caused the most headaches, Durham spokeswoman Tiffini Bloniarz said. The phone system got overloaded and parents couldn’t get through to ask questions. A glitch shunted some calls to a private home.

With only three full-time employees, the school district’s transportation office was swamped with calls by Tuesday afternoon, Roloff said.

More than 100 calls came in each day, she said, though by Friday the torrent had subsided.

“We do acknowledge that it was a rough week,” she said.

The local Durham office will have more phone lines installed by Monday evening, Bloniarz said. Additional staff will come in to help until all questions are answered.

“We always want to make sure parents can reach us,” she said.

Other problems – one bus ran so late some kids got home two hours later than scheduled – also have been addressed, she said. In that case, the driver was switched to a route with fewer riders and other adjustments were made.

Some stops were changed after school started, Bloniarz said, but that’s not unusual. Summer “dry runs” based on the previous company’s routes went smoothly, but no test can fully account for changes in school boundaries, riders and traffic.

“It looks like we’re probably past a lot of the issues … and things will be running much smoother now,” she said.

By the end of the week, the bus was consistently arriving for Boettner’s daughter promptly at 7:57 a.m.

“I’m satisfied with what’s happening now, but I also do feel it should have been ready to go on day one,” Boettner said.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that.”


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