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


"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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