Wake County Schools

Wake schools bus driver: 'This is the worst I've ever seen it'

Posted August 29, 2012 1:29 p.m. EDT
Updated August 30, 2012 5:14 a.m. EDT

— Wake County schools officials said Wednesday that problems with back-to-school busing are improving, but a bus driver in Wake County said some of the routes are impossible to complete. 

Spencer Jenkins, who has been driving a bus for Wake County for more than 10 years, said his six-stop route in 2011 ballooned to 20 at the beginning of the school year. 

“First couple of days are always rough," he said. "But I will say this, this is the worst I’ve ever seen it."

Jenkins, who gets his driving orders from a computer printout generated by the district’s transportation department, said his afternoon route is the hardest to handle logistically.

“Everything looks good on paper, but when you actually go out and run it, it’s totally different,” he said.

On Tuesday, Jenkins said he didn’t arrive at Hunter Elementary School until 4:50 p.m., more than an hour after it dismisses. The last child on Jenkins’ bus didn’t make it home until 5:45 p.m.

“I told my supervisor that I really can’t see where what I’m doing is going to work,” he said. “They’re going to have to do something with my route. I will say to parents, I do feel it’s going to get better.”

Jenkins also said that parents trying to get in touch with bus drivers should be aware that they can't answer their district-issued cellphones while driving and that those phones are only designed for the driver to get in touch with the district or emergency officials.

More than 900 Wake County school buses transport 75,000 to 80,000 students per day and make about 25,000 stops. Dozens of buses were taken out of service this year to cut costs, maintain efficiency and keep state funding, according to school officials.

But complaints about service began pouring in Monday, the first day of school for traditional-calendar students. Superintendent Tony Tata said Tuesday that the school system is doing everything it can to listen to parents, address the issues and smooth bus service problems.

"We are examining each transportation district, run-by-run, to determine which routes need to be split to make the buses run on time," Tata said. "We will add buses back for any routes we need to split to make that happen, as we continue to make student safety and on-time delivery our top priorities."

Despite the mid-week improvement, parents across the county have still reported late pickups and drop-offs and, in some cases, no service at all.

Erikka Buico, who put a sign in the front yard of her Raleigh home Wednesday commenting on the bus service, said the first half of the week has been rough. On Monday, her kids, who go to Jeffreys Grove Elementary on Creedmoor Road, were picked up just 15 minutes before the school day was scheduled to start.

On Tuesday, her children didn't arrive at school until after 10 a.m. and were dropped off more than an hour after the school day ended. Buico said the bus did arrive around 8:45 a.m. Wednesday, but she had already driven her kids to school.

Eddi Boucher said her 5-year-old grandson Logan Jackson was dropped off at the wrong location Tuesday afternoon. Instead of being taken home, Logan, who attends Farmington Woods Elementary in Cary, wound up at Salem Elementary in Apex.

"We called the Department of Transportation a dozen times, but it always went to voicemail," Boucher said. "To me, the schools need to have a plan if a child that was in their care is put on a bus and sent somewhere. They need to have some responsibility in helping us solve that situation."