Rough first day: Dayton bus drivers, school principal criticize DPS busing

Dayton Public Schools bus drivers and a charter school principal said DPS needs to fix its busing system after a “chaotic” first day of school Tuesday.

Marie Winfrey, a DPS bus driver and president of the drivers union, told the school board Tuesday night that there were multiple problems.

Winfrey said students are being picked up on both sides of the street, and buses are being routed down dead ends. Winfrey said some kids ended up at the wrong school on the first day due to confusion around the busing hubs and group bus stops.

“We are in a chaotic situation at this time,” Winfrey said.

Dayton Public Schools has struggled with busing for years. District officials have often blamed the state’s requirement that they transport thousands of charter and private school students who live in the district, on top of DPS’ own students. That means the district is busing students from all over the city to a collection of around 50 different schools with a variety of starting and ending times.

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Earlier this year, DPS ended its contract with First Student — which last school year had bused all the charter school students — in what DPS superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said was a mutual agreement. DPS is now transporting all qualifying students younger than high school to their respective schools. To accommodate for the increase in students, high school students who need busing have to ride RTA buses.

In a statement to media Wednesday, Lolli said “there are many reasons why a student may be accidentally transported to the wrong location,” but she said she Is confident the process will become smoother as the week goes on.

“First, it is not uncommon for students and families to experience transportation issues during the first week of school,” Lolli said. “This is due to a variety of factors, including students reporting to previous year’s bus stops by mistake, boarding the wrong bus, and delays due to traffic congestion, construction, and prolonged goodbyes between students and parents at bus stops.”

Lolli said DPS’ Transportation Department communicated to drivers in multiple ways this summer to ensure employees were prepared, adding there were a total of four days of practice route runs.

Alyse Pennington, principal of a local Horizon Science Academy charter school, told the school board Tuesday that she’s had ongoing issues with DPS transportation. In June, she was told DPS buses to her school would arrive half an hour after her start time, which she asked to have changed.

Since school started last week, she said she’s had a bus come as late as 5 p.m. to pick up students from her school. Buses to take kids home are supposed to come after school ends at 2:30 p.m., according to the academy’s website.

Recent changes in Ohio law require schools “to deliver students in preschool through grade 12 to their schools no earlier than 30 minutes before the start of the school day and to pick up no later than 30 minutes after the close of the school day.”

DPS associate superintendent Sheila Burton, who oversees transportation, said the district is working to resolve the issue. The board of education asked her to give a busing update at their September meeting.

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Pennington said Burton had met with her and other charter school heads on Monday, but the issue has not yet been resolved.

The DPS school board approved bus stops at their meeting on Tuesday, but Burton said those bus stops are subject to change depending on how many kids are at each bus stop and how often they’re used.

Winfrey said the transportation department could also benefit from permanent management hires, as a few positions are open.

Winfrey told the district in June she believed the transportation department was headed for problems if the district didn’t hire more drivers. David Harmon, DPS chief of human resources, told the Dayton Daily News last week the district wasn’t short of drivers, but would like to hire a few more as substitutes and to cover more routes.

Lolli said DPS began the year with 96 routes and 107 drivers.

“It is essential that parents update their addresses, phone number, and email address with the district,” she said. “Having updated information will ensure students are routed correctly and that parents receive all communication they need.”

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