By Katharine Swindells
BU News Service
An external consultant has been hired to reform the school bus system for Boston Public Schools, the Boston School Committee announced Wednesday evening after numerous parent complaints in the first month of school.
Delayed school buses have been a controversial issue over the last few weeks, with stories of children stranded and parents resorting to Uber making city-wide headlines.
In her report to the committee, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said she had hired Michael Terza, a consultant in school transportation, to conduct a review of the buses and begin implementing changes to improve the current system.
Cassellius acknowledged the difficulties the city had been having with school transportation and said that they were making efforts to “increase the number of buses arriving at our schools before the bell and in transporting children home on time safely.”
Cassellius said there had been “steady improvement” since the start of the semester, with 81% of buses now arriving on time in the morning, compared to 67% in the first week of the school year.
“We cannot be satisfied with buses arriving to school after the bell, or with students getting home late in the afternoon,” she said. “We can and must do better.”
She also said that 99% arrive within 30 minutes of their planned arrival time, though that is often after the school day has begun.
“While the numbers are headed in the right direction, I still am not satisfied that we are meeting the standard our families deserve,” she said. “We are certainly not meeting the standard that satisfies me.”
Terza will be employed by BPS two to three days every two weeks, to “conduct a complete review” of the current school transportation system and make recommendations. He will stay to oversee the implementation of short and long term changes, until the next school year, Cassellius said.
“I believe transportation cannot be fixed in a silo,” she said. “But we also know there are improvements that can be made to strengthen our level of service in this department.
Terza comes from a 30-year career with the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, public school system, serving over 80,000 students across 169 schools and is highly recommended by the Council of the Great City Schools, who will also be providing support to the project, Cassellius said.
School committee member and former committee Chair Michael O’Neill praised Cassellius’ decision and her “proactive” approach.
“I’m glad you’re not just saying that’s not good enough but actually doing something about it,” he said.
The meeting follows a Sept. 11 instance where parent Takia Anthony Price told the committee her son did not get home until 8 p.m. on the first day of school. He is usually home at 4:45 p.m., Price said at the time.
“For three hours, our son’s whereabouts were unknown to us,” Price said at the last meeting.
Price said she called the BPS transportation hotline that day, believing something was terribly wrong, and remained on hold for more than an hour.
“Every year is the same, the first week or two are always the hardest,” she said at the last meeting. “But to have my son, and from what I understand 20 to 30 other students that day, not dropped off until evening … to have parents to hold for more than an hour to find answers, is negligent.”
She demanded to know why the committee had not addressed the issue publicly or issued an apology as of the Sept. 11 meeting, which was more than a week after the incident.
Cassellius said Wednesday evening that she planned for Terza to speak with Price personally.
“I firmly believe that the entire Boston Public school, transportation and police system of communication are truly broken,” Price said at the last meeting, “Or worse, never existed at all.”