MIFFLINTOWN - The Juniata County School District is apologizing for recent bussing issues and asking that parents be patient as its new bussing system is tweaked.
Earlier this year the school board approved a transportation agreement with Rohrer's Bus Co. Part of that move was to consolidate bussing routes in order to cut costs. Fewer buses were needed and routes became longer.
Troubles first arose prior to the start of school as parents were told to expect either a phone call or a card in the mail stating their child(ren)'s bus number and pick-up/drop off time.
Sentinel photo by TABITHA GOODLING
A Hart’s Charter bus waits Tuesday outside East Juniata High School in Cocolamus just before students are dismissed. School officials issued an apology to parents Tuesday regarding recent problems with bussing in the county.
Sharon Walton of Mifflintown is sending her daughter to kindergarten this year. She faced a scenario that other parents also encountered.
"We never received the card in the mail to tell us which bus she should get on, or pick up and drop off times. I called the transportation department to find out."
District Superintendent Richard J. Musselman said the transition into the new bussing system is still a work in progress.
"Any time you make changes there will be problems," he said, "You have to try the changes before you see where you need the tweaks. We of course apologize for any inconveniences."
Musselman and Transportation Director PJ Adam have been swamped with voicemails and emails. Musselman said the district is working to fix the problems but needs the time to do so.
"Facebook is flooded with comments. Phone and email messages are flooded. While we're busy answering to all of that we can't take the time to be working on the (bussing) problem."
Because of the influx of phone calls the district has added two new telephones into the business office "to deal with customer service," Musselman said. Rohrer employees are coming into the district office to help with some of the telephone traffic, too.
Parents' main concern has been bus drop-off and pick-up times.
Said Walton, "I decided that I would drive (my daughter) to school every day because for her to get on the bus at 6:50 every morning is ridiculous. Her drop-off time was supposed to be at 4:28 p.m.. She was dropped off at 5 p.m. (on the first day)."
Those at either end of the county, particularly Susquehanna Township on the eastern end and East Waterford area on the western end, tend to have the longest bus rides, Musselman said. Some students were boarding buses shortly after 6 a.m. and others were not getting off the bus until 5 p.m. or later, prompting parents to call the district.
Children were waiting at the schools as well. Dawn Strawser of Monroe Township said, "My son in sixth grade said they had to wait more than 20 minutes at school for the bus, plus younger kids were crying."
Strawser, whose family members drive and own buses in the district, added she believed they had to wait because the bus to Mifflin-Juniata Career and Technology Center now hauls students from Juniata and EJHS. There used to be one bus for each school. Buses waiting to depart at EJHS for the day need to wait until students arrive on the MJCTC bus from Mifflin County.
Musselman said the district is working closely with Rohrer to see what can be changed.
"Rohrer has been here working into the evening every day. They were here all day Saturday," Musselman said.
Getting all of the district re-organized on the bussing system is not an easy task, he said.
"You have to keep in mind we are covering over 400 miles."
Another complaint among parents was that buses were overcrowded.
"We heard stories of students sitting on laps. But I can tell you none of the buses were overloaded," Musselman said.
And Adam, too, said "No buses were over-filled."
Parents stressed concern about students sitting three or more to a seat. Adam said state law allows for up to three students to be seated on a bus seat. Musselman pointed out the bus may appear crowded because two high school students may fill a seat, making it difficult to comfortably seat three.
Bus driver Melvin Hart in Susquehanna Township said he had 71 students on his bus when his it seats 72. He had five more students to pick up Monday morning and chose not to do so for fear of overcrowding, which could get him fined. Hart said he was told Tuesday he would have some of his students moved to an additional bus to alleviate the crowding problem.
"The first day was horrible," he said, "I looked back in my mirror and all I saw was a mass of heads." Hart has driven bus for 40 years and said he has never seen such a sight. He noted he is relieved to get some help, adding, however, it will be confusing for students for a few days until everything is set in place.
Lucy Vawn drives bus 17 in Lack Township and said her bus, too, was filled to capacity on the first day. She was also told an existing bus will take on some of her riders today.
"This is all still a work in progress," Adam said.
The superintendent stressed that the district apologizes to parents. He said those working on the bussing schedule hope to have things running more smoothly by the end of the week.