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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
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
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
"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
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,"
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."