AMSTERDAM — The lack of school bus drivers that has caused student transportation problems since the first day of school on Sept. 8 is continuing to bedevil the Greater Amsterdam School District.
On the first day of the school, transportation provider Student Transportation of America informed the district that it would be seven drivers short that day and possibly beyond. The shortage led to some students arriving home over two hours late.
Despite a large number of families providing independent transportation for their children, the district has continued to face massive busing problems with students arriving home late.
The manpower shortages require drivers to make multiple runs in the afternoon, leading school staff to stay late to wait with students until buses complete initial routes and return to take the next group of kids home. A Student Transportation spokesperson has attributed the issues to nationwide bus driver shortages dating back several years that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
District parent Leslee Dominelli expressed concern to the school board on Wednesday about the lack of information surrounding the transportation problems and that she worries about her seventh-grade daughter’s safety.
The family has repeatedly faced inconsistent pick-up times and two-hour-late afternoon drop offs. Dominelli said she has been unable to reach anyone by phone at Lynch Literacy Academy after school when she has tried to find out where her daughter is. When she instead called the bus company, she has been told only that her daughter is on her way home.
“That gives me no resolution to my problem. It doesn’t give me any solace as to what is happening to my little girl,” Dominelli said.
The district sends out notifications over ParentSquare when transportation is delayed, but Dominelli said the alerts are issued well after students should have arrived home. She added that parents haven’t received any details surrounding how students are monitored after school while waiting for buses to arrive.
“We have no plans about how our kids are getting home, we have no information about what kids are doing while they’re sitting and waiting at Lynch. It’s absurd,” Dominelli said.
Dominelli called on the board to take an active role in examining and resolving the district’s transportation issues.
“I hope you guys can look at that and see how we can figure out how to get our kids home. At the end of the day my taxes pay for this bus, my taxes pay for the school and these services aren’t being provided,” she said.
Curtis Peninger, school board vice president, sought to take up the charge by proposing the formation of a board transportation committee.
“We have many issues that are coming up right now that should be addressed,” Peninger said. “It would be heightened, this awareness.”
But board President Nellie Bush pushed back against the idea, saying Superintendent Richard Ruberti and school business official Colleen DiCaprio worked with Student Transportation throughout the summer on transportation plans that have suffered from the massive driver shortages.
“I don’t know what the transportation committee would do that you and Colleen aren’t already doing. It is what it is,” Bush said.
“The district is not the public portion of the schools here, it’s the Board of Education, the elected members,” Peninger said. “We’re the ones the public holds responsible.”
Peninger argued the committee could provide district officials more direct support to come up with a solution. He noted the district previously conducted a transportation study under interim Superintendent Raymond Colucciello, but the board never received the results.
The transportation committee could direct the school board to authorize a new study while determining what went awry with the previous investigation, Peninger said. Bush was unconvinced.
“The superintendent can find out as well,” Bush argued. “If the superintendent and his cabinet want to have a transportation study, they should come to the board and request that so the Board of Education would support their request.”
“We should be held responsible, we should be the ones finding out what the issue is,” Peninger replied.
The discussion ended when Peninger unsuccessfully sought someone to second his motion to form a board transportation committee. None of the board members backed the proposed action, effectively killing the idea.
Ruberti noted that district officials are continuing to work to try to resolve the “unacceptable” transportation situation. He went on to thank Dominelli for sharing her concerns.
“It’s totally understandable,” Ruberti said. “It’s definitely an issue, it’s something we’re working on.”
The district put out a request for proposals seeking alternative transportation options last year that failed to come up with any bidders to compete with Student Transportation. School officials have been working with the transportation provider this year on ways to consolidate routes to reduce student wait times.
“To STA’s credit, it’s a driver shortage everywhere,” Ruberti said.
The district has also been supportive of efforts by leaders in Amsterdam and Montgomery County seeking to attract CDTA bus service to the city. Ruberti has suggested the service could be used to provide transportation for Amsterdam High School students to attend academic and extracurricular opportunities.
While the district continues looking for options, Ruberti thanked parents for their patience and willingness to drive their children when possible. However, the tremendous increase in the number of kids being driven to school has created traffic problems with lines of cars stretching from school buildings onto surrounding streets.
“I’m concerned about traffic at all of our buildings and with our lack of buses,” board member Mark Kowalczyk said. “We’re asking parents to contribute more, which is making it worse. I really feel this is an emergency. We need to take on some type of plan where each of our buildings has a better means for cars and walking pedestrians to get in and out safely. I really think we’re going to have an accident soon.”
Kowalczyk suggested the district seek emergency capital project funds to create dedicated traffic loops for parent drop-off and pick-up.
“We do need some long term solutions, because I don’t think it’s going away,” Ruberti agreed.
The district would need to conduct building condition surveys at each school before seeking funding, Ruberti noted, saying he would begin discussing the possibility with the district’s capital project manager.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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