Gary school bus debacle frays parents’ nerves
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/648-3154 September 14, 2012 3:38PM
Updated: October 16, 2012 6:07AM
GARY — School officials hope to scrap the disastrous bus route system they started the year with and revert back to last year’s bus schedule.
Officials and school board members huddled with Illinois Central Bus Co. officials Friday to iron out a way to return to last year’s format by the end of October.
The proposed switch, announced at a meeting Thursday with parents, comes after a deluge of complaints about late-arriving and departing buses or no bus service at all.
Parents said some children aren’t getting home until 6 p.m. And others said buses aren’t showing up at bus stops to pick up children who are left to figure out how to get to school on their own.
That’s left them vulnerable to potentially dangerous scenarios.
School Board member Nellie Moore said a Frankie W. McCullough Academy for Girls seventh-grader waited for a school bus Tuesday that never arrived. She didn’t want to miss school so she boarded a Gary Public Transportation Corp. bus that left her at the Adam Benjamin Metro Station, 200 W. 4th Ave.
Moore said the girl didn’t know what to do when she got there and didn’t have money for a transfer. She began crying and a man approached her. He walked her about 11 blocks to the Gary police station where she received assistance. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt wiped her eyes as Moore told the story.
“We all know how that story could have ended,” said Moore. “We could be searching for her today.”
The school district announced a new partnership with Gary Public Transportation Corp. on Tuesday that began Friday. Secondary students can receive a free pass to ride GPTC buses to school instead of walking.
To save on transportation costs, the School Board established a “walk zone” policy, calling for secondary students who live within two miles of school to walk.
The School Board now appears to be retreating from that policy, which also calls for elementary children to walk if they live a mile or less from school.
Board member LaBrenda King-Smith, chairwoman of the transportation committee, said Friday she hopes the district can return to last year’s format in which buses picked up all kids who wanted rides to school.
Bruce Barr, the CEO and founder of Illinois Central Bus Co., told parents Thursday the problems began with the cash-strapped school district’s decision to slash transportation costs in half.
He said the company ran 158 bus routes last year, but the budget crunch this year reduced the number of routes to 60.
“We’re trying to make them more efficient with half the money,” he said. The company has inked a $5 million contract with the school district for this year’s service.
Barr said his workers discovered that no one had updated the district’s bus route database for years. He said Illinois Central finally took over the routing Aug. 23.
The excuses didn’t satisfy parents.
Brenda Williams, a parent of a Banneker Achievement Academy student, said she picks up stranded students regularly, even though she called it “a decision you’re leery to make.”
Williams, who called herself a “bus-stitute,” said some nights her son doesn’t get home until 6 p.m.
“I need a resolution,” Williams said. “For $5 million we can get some people from Nappanee in buggies and wagons. Everyone is walking on eggshells. I need some answers.”