Gary parents vent to board about school bus ‘mess’
By Michelle L.Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent August 22, 2012 11:22PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 7:44AM
GARY — Families who experienced nightmare busing issues the first two weeks of school apparently have a former disgruntled employee to blame.
Gary Community Schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt told a room full of unhappy parents in the West Side Leadership Academy library Wednesday that a former employee who still had password access to the corporation’s Versatrans system was responsible for changing some bus routes daily as well as deleting others outright. GCSC Spokeswoman Sarita Stevens said the matter is under investigation to determine what legal action it can take against the person.
Even without the extra burden, however, the three-tiered system of busing the elementary school children before 7 a.m., the middle-schoolers before 8 a.m. and the high-schoolers by 9 a.m. is problematic at best, and parents wasted no time in letting Pruitt and transportation representatives know exactly how bad it was. One parent, L’Tanya McHenry, said her daughter missed the first three days of school because she is within 2 miles of West Side, which means she is supposed to walk to school if she doesn’t have other transportation.
“We live at 24th and Clark Road. How is my 17-year-old daughter supposed to walk 2 miles there and back when it starts getting dark, when it rains, when there’s snow?” McHenry said. “This is her senior year.”
Another parent, Berda LaRue, whose daughter, Mackenzie, is a nonverbal autistic student at Lew Wallace STEM Academy, said Mackenzie has been picked up by different drivers every day, and one left her at the school. Micheline LaRue, Mackenzie’s aunt, said they were told Mackenzie has been “spoiled” by having door-to-door bus service.
“I thought you were supposed to take care of special-ed students first,” Berda LaRue said.
Transportation coordinator Milton Patch told the parents that with a transportation budget of $12 million last year, the corporation had 156 buses with which to work. Now, with a budget of $5 million, it has only 60 busses.
The three-tier situation, however, is unacceptable, and Patch, along with Jamal Washington of bus contractor Illinois Central School Bus, encouraged parents to keep telling them the issues so they can continue to work on them.
“This is a mess we have, so we’re here to work with parents and Illinois Central,” Patch said. “We need your voices.”
Patch is already looking into determining where registered sex offenders are in which neighborhoods so bus stops can be moved from those areas.
One student, Qiara Smith, of Gary’s Miller section, said she thinks Patch and Washington are doing the best they can with a bad situation. A sophomore at West Side, she said she has not had bus service the first two weeks.
“I talked to Mr. Washington, and he promised he would get a bus to at least get us home,” Qiara said. “And he did.”
Several people wondered what part the GCSC School Board played in the mess. Board Secretary Barbara Leek apologized for the problems but said the board acted on the information it was given. She also said there was little to no publicity about the walk routes — within 1 mile for younger students and within 2 miles for high-schoolers.
“After issues we had last year, we were assured (by the previous administration) the three-tier system was within out budget and would be efficient,” Leek said. “But once Dr. Pruitt got here July 1, she alerted us to the potential problems. We have every confidence she will get this straightened out.”