River Place Elementary parents seek answers for bus tardiness

LISD says congestion, construction,  lack of drivers are main reasons

Savannah Bruce is greeted by her family as she gets off her school bus on Nov. 20. Four Points neighborhoods off City Park Road are reporting school bus delays of up to an hour and 20 minutes in the afternoon coming from River Place Elementary. LESLEE BASSMAN

By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News

As Thanksgiving break begins and the school year is well underway, parents in the neighborhoods along City Park Road have voiced concerns about ongoing Leander ISD school bus delays.

For Westminster Glen resident Ashley Bruce, whose daughter Savannah is in the third grade at River Place Elementary School, the issue has been mounting since the semester’s start.

“There’s always been issues with buses breaking down but the major issue this year, which started right from the beginning of the school year, is (bus) delays and inconsistency with drop off times,” Bruce said.

She said the bus would break down about every other week during the 2018-19 school year. This year, a different bus is assigned to the route, she said.

Bruce and other parents report that the buses take on double routes and that they receive some emails about the bus being late but not every time it is late, and often with only a short notice.

“It’s pretty common these days to get an email usually after the dropoff time saying there’s a delay,” she said.

On those days, Bruce said she’s scurrying to take her child to afternoon activities, with a ripple effect creating Savannah’s tardiness to these programs. She said, on one recent day, she didn’t know where her daughter was since the afternoon pickup was late and she received no notice. So, Bruce took to the streets, driving through the neighborhoods to find the bus, pick up Savannah in time for her daughter’s gymnastics class. She said her daughter tends to become upset thinking she’ll be tardy to her after school programs due to a late bus.

In a Nov. 20 email response to an inquiry by the Four Points News, LISD officials point to construction in the area, traffic congestion and a shortage of bus drivers as reasons for these transportation delays in the Four Points area.

“We understand the frustration this has caused and are working with our campuses to minimize the impact on students and families,” the school district statement said. 

Although Bruce said she hasn’t experienced any issues with the bus pickup schedule, recently, the afternoon bus is about 20 minutes late if its route isn’t combined with another bus route and much later — up to an hour tardy—for those students at the end of the line if routes are combined, she said. 

The district confirmed it doubles up some school bus routes and, for this reason as well as other “traffic considerations,” delays arise with longer delays in the afternoon routes. It said staff communicates with parents when there’s an expected delay of 15 minutes or more and advised parents to check the district website to make sure their communication preferences are up to date if they don’t receive such notifications. 

“If bus delays result in students arriving late to campus, school staff is empowered to be flexible and compassionate when working with each affected student to make sure they are not unfairly penalized for a situation beyond their control,” the statement provided. 

The district said all of its buses are checked before and after daily routes to ensure “they are in top condition to transport our students.” Although normal wear and tear is expected on these vehicles, parents are advised to reach out to the LISD Transportation Department with any specific safety concerns about a particular bus. 

But this practice may not be enough for worried parents who have resorted to calling each other to find out where the bus is, asking if their children have been dropped off. 

Vanessa Jacob, who lives in Glenlake, puts her three children on the same bus as Bruce’s daughter but is on the route’s opposite end. 

According to Jacob, when a morning bus driver is running early, he or she doesn’t wait for the designated time before pulling from a stop, leaving the children to get to school by their parents or other means. In the afternoons, she said drop offs aren’t consistent — with bus arrivals anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes late — so she now brings a chair with her to wait more comfortably. Pickup is at the end of her driveway and drop off is across the street from her home, she said.

“I only have them ride the bus on the days when we don’t have anything (after school),” Jacob said. “If we have something (afterschool), I pick them up.”

Although Jacob said she has reported the issues to the school district’s transportation hotline on LISD’s website, she’s only received a response that the message has been received and hasn’t noticed any improvement since the call. She estimated her children had been on the bus last Friday (Nov. 15) for about an hour and 20 minutes for a route that takes them from the school located at the front of River Place to their home just outside the back of the neighborhood. 

Jacob said her children reported to her that a substitute driver was recently lost on the route, ending up at Emma Long Metropolitan Park down City Park Road before asking the students how to get to their homes.

“He finally figured it out but they were 40 minutes late that day,” she said of the driver, adding her oldest child, Olivia, is usually “frustrated” when the bus is tardy in the afternoon.

Long Canyon mom Lindsay Koenig is located on a different bus route line and two of her three children ride the bus to the elementary school, with her oldest child attending middle school. She said she favors her children’s regular bus driver but is concerned when a substitute is at the wheel.

She said she’s received a couple of emails regarding a late bus, with one email sent a minute after she left home to take her children to the morning pick up spot. Another notice informed her that the children would need to wait for 45 minutes at school before a bus was available to transport them home, Koenig said.

“They don’t always know where the stops are so sometimes (the children) have to help them to point out exactly where the stops are,” Koenig said of the substitute bus drivers. “It’s a little nerve wracking.” 

LISD’s statement said the district is currently seeking bus drivers and is asking interested prospects to apply on its website at www.leanderisd.org/careers.