Parents at Maurice W. Downing Primary School and Davison Avenue Intermediate School in Malverne have been displeased with bus service in the opening days of the new school year, because many students have gotten home late.
“We’ve had some growing pains with the new bus company,” said Downing School Principal Ed Tallon at a Sept. 10 Board of Education meeting. “. . . [W]e’ve been working very hard in trying to get to the root of the problem.” Among those addressing it are Davison Avenue School Principal Rachel Gross and Steven Gilhuley, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum.
The district hired Guardian as its new bus company over the summer, and district officials explained that part of the reason for the late buses is that the drivers are still familiarizing themselves with the community. Gilhuley added that while the district maps the stops, the bus companies establish the routes with GPS software.
“They usually do dry runs in the summer,” Gilhuley said. “But unfortunately, due to the turnover of the bus companies and the lateness of getting the contract with us, they didn’t really have time to exercise the routes with us. We’re accepting the blame, and we know there’s a problem.”
Another reason for the late buses, Gilhuley said, is the road construction in Malverne and Lynbrook.
Dr. Spiro Colaitis, the assistant superintendent for district operations, told parents that there is no law addressing how long a child can be on a bus. However, he said that the district’s standard is for a child to be on a bus no longer than half an hour.
“That’s because Davison and Downing shares buses, and Davison’s buses can’t take any longer than half an hour because that backs up Downing,” Colaitis explained. “If you think you were shocked, we were equally as shocked. Mr. Gilhuley was incredibly helpful, and we worked as a team to solve the problem, but we’ll continue to monitor it.”
The good news, Gross said, is that Guardian’s bus drivers have been receptive and eager to work with the schools. Gross monitored the buses with Gilhuley during the first week of classes. “I learned a lot about transportation during those drives, but the more you know, the more you can fix,” Gross said. “It’s empowering that we can actually get to the root of the problem.”
“I think we always try to take the positive away from the negative,” school board Trustee Josephine Bottitta said.
Gilhuley said that going forward, the district would update the routes each year. Last summer, he added, the district eliminated outdated bus stops. The district’s policy is that if no student is at the stop for five days in a row, the route will be eliminated.
“It’s the beginning of the year so there’s going to be some lateness, but we’re going to have to adjust as we go along,” Gilhuley said. “We’re going to monitor it every summer so that beforehand, we’re on top of it.”