December 8, 2021

Parents vent complaints about busing

Cortland school board tries to eliminate the chaos

Cortland Standard file photo

A school bus pulls away from Parker Elementary School in Cortland. File photo from June 2018.

Complaints about the city school district’s handling of transportation at the start of the school year last week continued Tuesday at the board of education meeting, and district officials explained the errors and efforts to resolve them.

Following a chaotic back-to-school week, in which failures in the district’s new transportation schedule resulted in major delays in dismissal and bus arrival times, particularly Thursday, Superintendent of Schools Michael J. Hoose sought to reassure parents and the public.

The school administration had learned from its mistakes and had fixed most of them, Hoose told a handful of parents who attended a board meeting in the Kaufman Center, he said.

Hoose, who described transportation logistics for the school district as “three-dimensional chess,” said “we had a lot of last-minute changes that threw things off a lot.”

He acknowledged there were district-wide dismissal and busing issues, most of them connected to the three new schools — Barry Primary, Smith Intermediate and Randall Middle — that were consolidated out of five lower-grade schools; the other schools, Parker and Virgil, closed in the spring.

“It was really rough Thursday,” Hoose acknowledged. “We had a lot of issues.”

He said the administration was not prepared for the number of parents who requested changes in how their students were dismissed. This particular failure resulted in a backlog of requests that couldn’t be processed fast enough, he said.

Further, the schools and the transportation use different types of incompatible software to enter data on student dismissal and transportation; this incompatibility led to problems with data entered in one system not appearing in the other, he said.

The administration also failed to anticipate how long Barry Primary School would take to dismiss, which in turn caused a delay that cascaded through the rest of the system, causing more problems elsewhere. He also said the district could have done a better and faster job informing parents on Thursday of the delays in dismissal and busing.

But for some parents this was not enough.

“Every factor you mentioned was something that people talked about all summer, all spring. They should have been thought of before Friday and Thursday. So that’s just disappointing,” said parent Scott Grant. Grant’s daughter, who attends Smith Intermediate, returned home an hour and 15 minutes late Thursday, he said.

“You know I’ve managed people for many years. When they don’t do their job, they have excuses,” Grant said. “You could have planned for everything beforehand, but you didn’t do it properly, and now you’re giving excuses: ‘Oh, I’ll do better next time.’ It’s just — it’s unacceptable.”

Four other parents — Justin Witty, Stacy Burns, Eric Fitchette and Angela Gellatly — also chastised the administration for last week’s dismissal and transportation problems.

Burns said her 7-year-old son was dropped off three-tenths of a mile from her house, when he was supposed to be dropped off at the after school program at the former Virgil school. She said
she spent half an hour Thursday trying to figure out what happened to him, “but no one could tell me where my kid was.” After she “lost it,” she then drove home to find her son already there.

Burns said she and her son were traumatized by the confusion.

“I felt sick to my stomach,” she said.

Eric Fitchette said he was also upset by the mistakes — his second-grader came home two and a half hours late Thursday — but also said he wanted school officials to learn from these mistakes and make sure future logistical problems don’t crop up, particularly with big events, such as school concerts.

“There was more planning that I think should have gone into it,” he said. “I think they need to look ahead from this.”

Board member Christine Gregory said as a grandmother of students in city schools, she empathized with the concerns expressed by parents, “but I had confidence that whatever went wrong would be fixed.”

“We’ll get it right,” she said.