Nashua school board reviews array of bus stop complaints
By BARBARA TAORMINA Union Leader Correspondent
NASHUA — Parents have turned to the Board of Education for help with late buses, missed stops and other problems with the district’s transportation program.
Transportation Director David Rauseo met with members of the board’s Finance Committee last week to review the district’s busing program. According to Rauseo, this year, the program provided more than two million student rides on 54 full-size buses, 33 special education buses and two buses for charter school students.
Rauseo said transportation services are being stretched thin by the growth in pre-school programs, the increased demand of sports teams and difficulty filling bus driver jobs.
Although BOE member acknowledged it was a tough job driving 8,000 students to and from school each day, Kimberly Muise asked about different complaints that have come to light this year.
“I’m hearing about buses being early, buses not picking up students and buses being late,” said Muise, adding that late buses have been a problem at Pennichuck Middle School and the Academy for Science and Design charter school.
Rauseo said the scheduling for Pennichuck had been resolved and buses are now arriving on time.
Muise asked if the Transportation Department staff tracked complaints. Rauseo said they did not, but a log is being considered for next year.
Daniel Donovan, the district’s chief financial officer, said it would take between $7,000 and $8,000 to install software to track complaints, but it could be done on spreadsheets.
Muise also said she had also heard about buses sitting at schools, particularly Elm Street Middle School, waiting for students from other schools to arrive for the trip home. She asked if the district had enough buses.
“We’re very tight on buses,” said Rauseo. “As long as I’ve been here, we’re been tasked with reduce, reduce, reduce.”
Rauseo said that the general feeling was that when students were on an idling bus in the afternoon, waiting to head home, they were safe, secure, and not missing any school time.
“That saves us three more buses a year, and $120,000, and the kids wait a few minutes each day,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
BOE member Dotty Oden brought up a problem at Amherst Street Elementary School that involved students arriving at school too late to have breakfast.
Rauseo said the route had been changed, and that students are now arriving on time.
Oden stressed many families in need live in Nashua, and asked if bus routes were scheduled to give students enough time for a breakfast that they are not getting at home.
“Generally, we don’t bus for breakfast,” said Rauseo who added it might require moving some bell times to solve that problem.
BOE member Sandra Ziehm asked Rauseo, as a manager, how he viewed parents of students.
“I never realized, until I came here, how emotional a bus stop can be,” he said adding that some bus stops are like neighborhood institutions.
Rauseo said he talks with many parents, particularly parents of special education students who have specific needs. He said he avoids special arrangements for individual families.
“The big fear is that once you let a parent get a special deal, everyone wants it,” he said. “There are times when we are not giving people what they want.”
Rauseo said one of the most common complaints from parents is that they can’t see their child’s bus stop from their house.
Rene Clark, the mother of a student at Nashua High North, also attended the meeting and described problems at bus stops for Kessler Farms and particularly for Forrest Ridge apartments.
“That bus stop has been deteriorating rapidly,” said Clark who said the driver has forgotten to pick up students at that stop.
“Last week he ran the stop sign, last week he was 10 minutes early and didn’t wait,” said Clark. “Kids were running like crazy to try and catch up to this bus that’s stopping every 5 feet to pick up kids.”
Rauseo apologized for the problems and said he would research that route.
Finance Committee members also reviewed a new contract with First Student Bus Transportation and voted to recommend that the full board approve the deal. According to Rauseo, next year’s transportation costs will be $5.61 million.