FRAMINGHAM – Today was the first day of school for kindergarten students in the Framingham Public School District. Yesterday, was the first day of school for students in grades 1-12.
It was not a smooth transition from summer to school for the public school district of more than 9,000 students.
Almost two-thirds of the district uses a school bus, and not every bus was on time or even had a driver on the first day.
“New school times, new bus routes, new school construction … new school year! Thank you for being patient with us as we work to smooth out the first days of school kinks,” wrote Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay last night.
Due to a new union contract, the elementary school day was extended by 15 minutes. The contract forced changes to the school day at nine elementary schools.
That change forced bus routes to change for the entire district.
Add in the fact that long-time Transportation Director Rick Gallagher retired last school year, and there are many, many new bus routes.
This year, while there are new routes, Durham School Services is still struggling to meet the terms of its bus contract.
Durham was awarded a new, $29 million 5-year contract in 2016 for bus services for Framingham Public Schools.
Durham was short drivers last year, which caused several issues.
But on the first two days of the school, Durham was short almost 10 drivers for the roughly 75 buses needed for the district.
Substitute drivers were called in, but that meant that some kids were as much as 30 minutes late to school, some buses never arrived at all in the morning, and other students had bus rides home that were more than an hour, with several drivers lost in the City of Framingham.
But the Framingham Public School District is working on improvements.
Unfortunately, not all the bus drivers had experience with the routes before the first day of school.
And not all the buses are equipped with GPS, to track the buses, to see if they are running late to pick up or drop off.
“Durham replaced several of our older buses with new ones for this school year, which do not have GPS capability yet,” said Lincoln D. Lynch IV, Framingham Public Schools Executive Director of Finance and Operations.
“The older buses do have GPS installed meaning the vendor’s internal system can track the bus movements,” said Lynch who oversees transportation for the district.
“Drivers completed ‘dry runs’ of their routes last week and earlier this week to get familiar with the area and the bus stops throughout their route,” said Lynch to SOURCE. “Currently the drivers do use paper print outs that show their route stop-by-stop, student name with LASID# and turn-by-turn directions.”
Not only are the drivers learning new routes they are dealing with traffic issues and a significant amount of road construction projects in the City.
Lynch said, “there have been several substitute drivers and new drivers to Framingham driving this week, that are not completely familiar with the City.”
” I am confident the situation will get better and appreciate the patience shown by our families and community,” said Lynch to SOURCE tonight, August 29.
Many parents said the understood there would be issues with buses the first few days and maybe even the first couple of weeks, but they wished that there was better communication by the district to parents on late buses.
Some school districts have apps that let parents know when a bus will be more than 15 minutes late picking up or dropping off. Other districts have text alert systems that let parents know about late buses.
Framingham Public Schools is working on that communication roll out for parents.
“We have plans to upgrade our existing routing software to a cloud-based system this year. With this upgrade, there is an app that allows for tracking buses,” said Lynch to SOURCE.
“Before we are able to move forward with the upgrade, we need to get through the beginning of school with new routes and new drivers,” said Lynch.
“We built new routes this summer to try and create a more efficient transportation system, an exercise that has not been conducted in some time and are working through issues now with the start of school.,” said Lynch.
“Once the newness of routes and drivers wears off we will begin on the next project which is the upgraded software system and app to track buses,” said Lynch to SOURCE. “It has not fallen off of our radar and we look forward to providing that form of communication to our parents.”