News

Bus drivers want problems fixed

SNOQUALMIE _ It was not a textbook start of the school year


for Snoqualmie Valley School District No. 410.


In the first few weeks of school, the district's transportation


system witnessed a rash of problems: Buses were late, buses were


overcrowded and sometimes parents didn't know where their children would be


picked up.


Since then, those problems have become less frequent, district


officials said, and the transportation system seems to be ironing out its


wrinkles. Fewer parents have called the district office to voice their complaints.


Some of the problems the district encountered where the result


of changes to bus service, which had been suggested by a study


completed this summer by the Puget Sound Educational Service District. The


school district instigated the study after bus drivers cast a no-confidence


vote against the current transportation supervisor, Bill Schoentrup, earlier


this year.


Randy Millhollen, regional transportation coordinator with the


Puget Sound Educational Service District, detailed several areas in which the


department could improve, including making routes more efficient,


reorganizing the transportation administrative staff and bolstering morale


within the department.


Bus drivers still have concerns with the way in which the


department is providing service. At the Sept. 28 Snoqualmie Valley School


Board meeting Pat Lambert, a field representative with the Public School


Employees of Washington, which is the union representing the bus drivers, said it


is up to the district to resolve the remaining issues, adding that bus drivers


are "frustrated and distracted" by


continuing problems.


"We want it fixed. We simply want it fixed," he said in front of a


room full of drivers, parents and district staff. "Management, quite frankly,


has not been successful at this point in time. We think it's management's


responsibility to fix that."


Bus driver Jodi Johnson read a letter to School Board members that


was signed by most of the drivers. The letter was addressed to parents in


the school district, and it apologized for any problems parents have


encountered with bus service. However, the drivers stated they were not the


ones who had made the changes to the service.


"As bus drivers, we are given route sheets and need to follow them to


assure an organized and safe ride for your children. We are not the ones


who decide which roads to service, where to stop our bus or even which bus


is assigned to the routes," the letter states.


"If ever you have a concern about your student and their


transportation, remember that we can listen and would love to help, but you need


to call the transportation or the district office. As drivers, we are not


authorized to make changes. Changes need to be cleared through the


transportation supervisor."


Parents who attended the meeting said some bus routes continue to


experience problems. They also expressed their unhappiness with


the district's decision to stop picking up children at Liz's Playhouse


Daycare in Snoqualmie.


Superintendent Dr. Richard McCullough said he thought many


of the concerns expressed by drivers and parents were valid.


"Some of the discussion that occurred (from the meeting) … was


very appropriate and very helpful in terms of informing us about what some


of the concerns are," he said.


And even though they turned out in force to air their grievances at


the school board meeting, McCullough said drivers are working with the


district to correct any problems they see. He cited a case where a bus driver


for a North Bend neighborhood informed Schoentrup that the bus was


overloaded, and the district moved quickly to place students on other buses.


Assistant Superintendent Rosemary Ziara, who manages


business services for the district, said she is optimistic that administrators can


continue to work with drivers to improve the department.


"One of the things I was really glad to hear the drivers say at that


meeting Thursday was they wanted all of us to work together," she said, adding


that communication between drivers and administrators has been


improving, and that helps morale.


"I think that if we continue to work on making the day-to-day


operations go smoothly, we can get to a point where the morale will be better,"


Ziara said.


There are some who aren't pleased with the changes made to the bus


service. Liz Bauer, owner of Liz's Playhouse Daycare on Epsilon Street


in Snoqualmie, told School Board members she has lost business because


the district stopped picking up and dropping off students at her day-care


facility.


"I feel we were pretty much singled out because we're on


the wrong side of (State Route) 202," she said.


"I pay taxes, just like everyone here, and I feel that's something


that I'm entitled to."


In his study, Millhollen recommended that the district adopt a


policy in which students living within a one-mile radius of their school should


walk to school, which would ease overcrowding problems on buses.


McCullough said that as the district changed its routes to meet the


recommendations, some former stops were dropped, such as Liz's


Playhouse Daycare. He said some day-care facilities have been affected the


same way in other parts of the district, while some day-cares continue to


receive bus service since they fall along a designated route.


While he understands Bauer's concerns, he said bus drivers can't go


out of their way to pick up children at a particular day-care facility because


it could appear that the district is trying to "subsidize and support" the


business. A bus stop is within walking distance of Bauer's day-care, but


some parents said in a previous Valley Record article that they didn't think


it was safe for their children to walk to the bus stop near SR 202.


Harvey Jones, who has two children attending Liz's


Playhouse Daycare, said more notice was needed in advance of changes to bus routes.


"These things should be worked out, especially a week before


school starts," he said.


At the meeting, a few drivers and parents lodged complaints


against Schoentrup, but board member Becky Jorgensen said the meeting was not


a forum for personnel evaluation.


"I think we have to be very careful not to let this become pointed at


a specific employee," she said.


Board president Kristy Sullivan said the school district needs the


cooperation of everyone involved to fix transportation issues as they arise.


"We can't do it without all of us working together," she said.


"We can't point fingers and we can't blame."

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