Dayton Public superintendent answers charge that first-day school bus service in ‘chaotic situation’

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Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli on Wednesday afternoon responded to allegations of problems within the district’s bus transportation system and that it was in a “chaotic situation” on the first day of school.

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Lolli, in a prepared statement, said the district wanted to clarify several points after a thorough review of concerns expressed at the school board meeting Tuesday night.

“First, it is not uncommon for students and families to experience transportation issues during the first week of school,” she said. “This is due to a variety of factors, including students reporting to previous year’s bus stops by mistake, boarding the wrong bus, and delays due to traffic congestion, construction, and prolonged goodbyes between students and parents at bus stops. Some DPS buses also had to be re-routed due to an accident.”

One of the concerns expressed Tuesday night came from Marie Winfrey, Dayton City Bus Drivers 627 president, who said there were multiple problems with the district busing system. The issues were due to inconsistences, lack of organization, communication and route changes, Winfrey told the board, noting, “We are in a chaotic situation at this time.”

“We have routes that’s going down dead-end streets again, and streets that we’re putting our children on both sides of the roads. We can’t even transport up and down those streets,” Winfrey said. “We had some go to the wrong schools due to the hub stops and the group stops. We can do better.”

Another concern came from Alyse Pennington, Horizon Science Academy principal. “For the past decade, if not more, we have held a wonderful relationship with DPS and never had issues with busing. I can no longer say that that is true,” she told the board.

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Buses are arriving up to two hours past the end of the school day, she said.

“Just yesterday, I was at my building until five o’clock waiting on a school bus. School let out at 2:30,” Pennington said. “It is the law to transport those students within that 30-minute buffer, and at this moment Dayton Public Schools is not meeting that.

“Our bus routes are being changed. The parents are not being notified. The schools are not being notified. My bus drivers are coming in warning me, ‘hey, the bus might be a little empty today because I got a new route this morning and they changed it by about 30 minutes – the bus stops.’ My parents didn’t know this,” Pennington said.

She said parents who telephone the transportation center to report issues get an automated message.

“I am asking that you help us and take immediate action with fixing the many transportation problems that we have,” she asked the board.

Winfrey and Pennington were joined by other school leaders told the board students were taken to the wrong schools, buses were late on routes, and the system lacked organization.

Lolli, in her statement, said “the [2022-23] school year came with additional challenges because there was a need to begin transporting 18 non-public schools and an additional Dayton public school, for a total of 45 schools.

The district began the year with 96 routes and 107 drivers, she said, and created group stops for routing efficiency. The average wait time for students was 15 to 20 minutes Tuesday, with 45 minutes being the longest wait time. On Wednesday, the average wait time dropped to 10 to 15 minutes, she said.

“As noted,” [at the start of her statement], Lolli said. “there are many reasons why a student may be accidentally transported to the wrong location. However, when transportation staff are alerted to the issue, they respond immediately and work to ensure the student is safely taken to the correct building.”

The Transportation Department communicated to drivers multiple times and in multiple ways throughout the summer, she said, to ensure employees were prepared for the upcoming year.

Lolli said it is essential that parents update their addresses, phone number, and email address with the district. Having updated information will ensure students are routed correctly and that parents receive all communication they need. Each year, returned letters and undeliverable phone calls cause problems when trying to communicate routes to parents, Lolli said.

The District is confident the process will become smoother as the week progresses, she said.