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The Board of Education learned at its meeting on October 17 about proposals to address concerns surrounding the reconfigured transportation system this school year, and Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue proposed an “immediate remedy” that would have Reed Intermediate School dismiss five minutes earlier to alleviate elementary student wait times this year.
Dr Rodrigue also proposed utilizing two buses in Newtown’s fleet — which presently transport EdAdvance and St Rose of Lima School students — for the public school routes to transport some Reed students directly to school this school year, according to a handout shared at the meeting.
“What I wanted to do was present an immediate remedy and look to what we can do in the future, in the fall,” said Dr Rodrigue, explaining the Task Force proposals were being presented as options for next school year.
After Board of Education members voiced approval at its meeting on September 19, the task force was formed by Dr Rodrigue to look at transportation. Since the start of the school year, concerns have been raised regarding the reconfigured transportation system for the 2017-18 school year. Concerns were also voiced during the public participation portion of the October 17 meeting.
The task force, Dr Rodrigue said, focused on points the members would like corrected, like buses not arriving to school on time, eliminating wait time for students that lead to longer days, finding efficiency in the shuttle system that transports Reed students and elementary students on the same bus routes, and shorter bus ride times.
“The immediate remedy is to offset that dismissal time at Reed by five minutes to allow for a more efficient shuttle to elementary, reducing the wait and load time and students will arrive home earlier in the afternoon,” said Dr Rodrigue.
While the school day starts at 9:05 am at Reed, Dr Rodrigue also asked board members to keep in mind that instructional time does not start at the school until 9:17 am.
“So at least we have wiggle room. It’s not the best. We need to fix it, and that is what we are going to do with the two buses,” said Dr Rodrigue.
The two buses being proposed to bring Reed students directly to Reed is a “mirror” of one of the proposals for next year, Dr Rodrigue explained. Implementing the “immediate remedy,” according to Dr Rodrigue, would be the first phase of correcting transportation issues, and the second phase would be looking harder at a solution for next school year.
The interim superintendent also shared information about three of the top vetted potential proposals from the Task Force. She explained the proposals led to two “future proposals” for next school year.
One potential task force proposal was explained in a handout as being a three-tiered system, with Newtown Middle School and Reed on one tier. According to the handout, buses may not arrive on time with the system, it could be cost neutral, and the elementary school day is anticipated to run from 9:35 am to a 4:07 pm dismissal time, which Dr Rodrigue said would have students arriving home after dark. The handout also said the proposal would not allow enough time between tiers.
Another task force proposal would have Reed on its own tier, the shuttle system would not be used, additional buses would be needed, and ride times for Reed students are expected to increase. While Dr Rodridgue told the school board this proposal could work, she added 17 additional buses would be needed for Reed to have “dedicated” buses. It would cost roughly $1,026,630 more, according to the presentation.
“There was a cost here,” said Dr Rodrigue, about the second task force proposal. “Would it work? Absolutely… if we added buses.”
The last task force proposal as detailed would be a two-tier system, but it would eliminate the current shuttle system. The handout also said the option would have longer ride times for elementary students in the morning, could cause traffic congestion at Reed, and it would take 20 minutes more to “clear” buses from Reed at dismissal.
“After looking at the potential of each proposal — while we pulled in ideas from all, it was determined that only one option was viable, but needed some modifications,” one handout reads, regarding the final top task force proposal.
The final detailed task force proposal led to two “Future Proposals.”
Future Proposal I, as shared at the meeting, would shift Reed to start and end the day ten minutes earlier and the shuttle system would be used.
“The issue with this, with the shuttle… is it is a little bit of a longer ride,” Dr Rodrigue said, adding that there is “always a downside.”
Future Proposal II would have the elementary schools start and end ten minutes earlier, the shuttle system would not be used, and a “perimeter bus” option is proposed to bring some students living the farthest away to elementary schools, according to the presentation.
“This could work, as long as we have the buses for the perimeter,” said Dr Rodrigue.
During public participation two people shared experiences from being on the task force.
Lucia Kortze said she volunteered and served on the task force, but she has removed herself from it as of this week. After four meetings and “countless hours of personal time,” Ms Kortze said the proposal submitted to the board was to remove five minutes from the end of the day at Reed, which she said is 23 less minutes in school daily than last year and adds up to over 70 hours over the school year.
“Today marks over seven weeks that students are late for school,” Ms Kortze noted.
Ms Kortze said she and task force member Katie Burke created a proposal — the first task force proposal outlined at the board meeting — that was voted “number one by all of those in the task force group.” After spending three days looking at the plan, All-Star Transportation reported the proposal was not viable due to not having enough time between tiers, she said.
“In the end, the bus company dictated what the result would be,” said Ms Kortze.
Ms Kortze also shared her frustration and disappointment with the administration and All-Star Transportation. She urged the board to seek advice from an outside source.
Later Ms Burke shared more details about the three-tier bus system task force proposal the pair came up with. She detailed the number of buses that would be used for each school and how the tiers would utilize shorter bus routes on earlier tiers to alleviate later routes on later tiers.
“I think this plan, if it was truly given a six-month look at by All-Star, is a potential plan. It requires more than just plugging addresses into a database and saying go,” said Ms Burke.
Board Members Respond To Proposals
Board of Education members responded with mixed views on the immediate and future proposals.
School board member Rebekah Harriman-Stites said it took weeks to decide to remove five minutes from the start time at Reed, and she said she is not sure the immediate remedy proposed “goes far enough” to address all of the transportation issues. While noting no one was at the meeting to speak for the transportation company, she also said she has concerns about getting information from a source that “obviously has something to gain out of making us spend more money.”
Board Secretary Debbie Leidlein said she is uncomfortable with cutting five minutes from the school day at Reed. She hopes if the school day is reduced that the practice does not continue to next school year.
Board member Dan Cruson, Jr, also shared concern about removing time from the school day, adding that his take away from the task force response is there is no easy solution.
“All I feel like we are doing is accommodating an inept bus company,” said board member Andrew Clure, also noting no one was present to represent the bus company at the meeting.
Board Vice Chair Michelle Embree Ku said the transportation system has always had inequalities, and there is no easy solution to be found.
Later, after school district Business Director Ron Bienkowski presented two proposals for transportation consulting firms, the school board discussed hiring the firms — Transportation Advisory Services and TransPar — for review of the transportation system. The reviews would cost roughly $10,000 or roughly $12,000, depending on which firm is chosen, according to Mr Bienkowski. A number of board members expressed concern about hiring a consultant before looking over the proposals. The proposals may be discussed further at a future school board meeting.
The school board did not make a motion to reject or support Dr Rodrigue’s “immediate remedy,” which Board of Education Chair Keith Alexander explained leaves Dr Rodrigue “free to implement” the five-minute change to Reed’s day and begin the use of the two buses from St Rose and EdAdvance.
Following the meeting, Dr Rodrigue said she is working with her leadership team to offset the time between Reed and the elementary schools to support the dismissal process, but an implementation date was unknown as of October 18.
Dr Rodrigue said she will send an announcement to parents once a decision is reached.