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A year later, school buses still late

Tardy pickups, class arrivals upset many

Megan Wolf - shown greeting her daughter Shaina, 12, at the Jamaica Plain stop yesterday - calls the problem of late-running school buses “terrible.’’ Megan Wolf - shown greeting her daughter Shaina, 12, at the Jamaica Plain stop yesterday - calls the problem of late-running school buses “terrible.’’ (Bill Brett for The Boston Globe)
By Martine Powers
Globe Staff / October 5, 2011
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Shaina Wolf, 12, is scheduled to be picked up from the bus stop near her home in Jamaica Plain at 8:12 a.m. - 18 minutes before class begins at Rafael Hernández School in Roxbury.

But on a good day, the bus arrives at 8:25 a.m.

Or 8:30 a.m.

Or 8:35 a.m.

“It’s just terrible, and my issue is that getting to school on time should not be a problem,’’ said Shaina’s mother, Megan Wolf. Other parents at the school, she said, have started tracking late buses and sending the statistics to the superintendent.

One year after the Boston public schools began using new software to manage school bus routes, some parents and teachers say that problems are worse than ever.

For families, late morning buses are a source of anxiety as parents choose between arriving late at work and leaving a child to wait alone.

But most important, they say, late buses eat into critical classroom time. Many teachers choose the first minutes of the day to launch their most challenging lessons.

“The beginning of the school day is prime time,’’ said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union. “Everyone’s fresh and more focused then. Students are not as antsy.’’

This year, Stutman said he has fielded more calls than ever about tardy buses, a few dozen since the beginning of the school year, he said.

“I think at the start of the year, for the first few weeks, a snag here or there is understandable,’’ he said. “But it appears things are beyond the point where it should be resolved. The dust should have settled a little bit quicker.’’

Because of complaints, the Boston School Committee will address the transportation issue at its meeting tonight.

This is not the first time parents have complained about late buses.

Last year, the Boston public schools received a deluge of e-mails and phone calls from angry parents, principals, and teachers who said some students consistently miss the first minutes of the school day or wait for long periods after school, all because of tardy buses.

Matthew Wilder, spokesman for the Boston School Department, acknowledged yesterday that there are problems with the bus system.

There are many issues at fault, he said: The district switched to a new GPS-equipped computer system to map bus routes, and while the system has made the routings more efficient, it also creates some inaccurate estimations of rush hour driving time.

Additionally, Wilder said, 8 percent more students are attending charter schools than last year, and the school district is required by law to transport them. Many must be bused across town.

Wilder said that the School Department is working hard to make changes to get buses on schedule.

“It’s unacceptable that any of our students are missing any amount of school time because of transportation issues,’’ he said. “It’s a very serious and important issue that we don’t take lightly.’’

A busload of students arriving to school late can have repercussions through the day. Because bus drivers typically take three runs in the morning, a late arrival during the first run can cause delays on the subsequent two routes.

And disruptions to the learning process caused by late buses often fall along socioeconomic lines, Stutman said.

Parents of many children who ride the bus to school may not have cars to drop them off at school. Those are the students who consistently miss the first 15 to 45 minutes of the school day because of delays in the morning bus route, he said.

For other families, buses in the afternoon are the problem.

Colleen Somers of Dorchester has a 10-year-old son who attends the Richard J. Murphy School in Dorchester. While his bus is scheduled to arrive at the stop close to their home at 3:07 p.m., it usually shows up at least 30 minutes late.

That means that Somers, who has three other children, has to rearrange her schedule on the fly to meet her son at the bus stop while making sure her other children are cared for.

When Somers notices her son’s bus has not arrived at the bus stop, she said, the school is often unable to tell her the whereabouts of her son.

She said she has had to fall back on extraordinary measures to keep tabs on her son during the bus’s mystery hour: “I resorted to giving him a cellphone,’’ Somers said, “which I hated.’’

Late buses are stressful to both parent and child, said Karen Hocker of Dorchester, whose 10-year-old son attends the James Condon Elementary Schoo l in South Boston.

Sometimes she must drive him to school, which causes her to arrive late at her job as a teacher at another local school. The boy is flustered when he walks into his classroom late, she said, and he must often complete the work he missed in class after school, in addition to his homework.

Hocker and her son love the school and his teacher, she said, and would not choose to leave the district. But she fears the bus delays are sending the wrong message: The bus system should adhere to the same principles of punctuality that children learn in class, she said.

“There’s such a stress from schools on parents to get your child there on time, that it’s so important,’’ Hocker said.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.

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