Everything from a driver shortage to new busing options to crowds of car-riders are fueling Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ back-to-school bus delays, which resulted in some students getting home from school more than two hours late the first day.
That was down to about 90 minutes for the latest arrivals Tuesday, bearing out Transportation Director Janet Thomas’s promise: “Today’s going to be better than yesterday.”
The last scheduled stops are at 6 p.m., but some buses made their last drops Monday at 8:09 p.m. Three magnet students who got on the wrong bus had to be ferried across town, with the last one getting home at 8:42.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Ann Clark said the last drops were made around 7:25 p.m.
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Late buses are expected during the first week of school, when the district is trying to process new students and sort out ridership. But this year’s first-day delays were unusual, despite a smooth start in the morning.
Today’s going to be better than yesterday.
CMS Transportation Director Janet Thomas
Lisa Stoller Hagen says her daughter, who attends the Montessori magnet program at Sedgefield Middle School, was an hour late to school Monday morning. School ended at 4:15 p.m., but she didn’t board an afternoon bus until 5:50 and got home around 7 p.m.
Hagen called the experience frustrating and disappointing: “There was no communication from the school. At the minimum there could have been a ConnectEd (message) sent out stating who was supervising the kids, why the bus was late and an expected time for departure or home.”
CMS officials had said parents would be notified if buses were running late. But Thomas said that was handled through schools, rather than the transportation department, so she couldn’t say how consistent that was.
Here’s what Thomas said complicated Monday’s afternoon runs:
▪ CMS has expanded magnet busing options, which required adding 48 buses this year. CMS has 125,000 students assigned to 1,052 buses, and the magnet routes tend to be longer.
▪ Expanded busing contributed to a driver shortage, which is worse in the afternoon because many drivers and substitutes work mornings only. CMS has 90 vacancies, and “we need those 90 people in the worst way,” Thomas said.
▪ Parents picking their children up clogged access to many schools. “We had buses trapped in traffic that couldn’t get to the school,” Thomas said.
▪ A broken water main routed outbound traffic from Independence Boulevard through nearby neighborhoods and onto Monroe Road. That slowed buses trying to get to and from eastside schools. And while that was the most dramatic traffic snarl, other roads are already narrowed by construction, Thomas said.
▪ CMS has staggered schedules, with dismissal times ranging from 2:15 to 4:15 p.m. Most buses make two or three consecutive runs, which means small delays can snowball. Thomas said the latest drop-offs for regular routes came at a magnet school with a 4:15 dismissal, where buses reached the school about 90 minutes late.
The CMS transportation hotline – 980-343-6715 – got more than 6,000 calls Monday, which meant the district couldn’t process them all. The volume was down significantly on Tuesday, Thomas said.
During the next two weeks, CMS will fine-tune its routes. If no one shows up at an assigned stop for 10 school days, it is eliminated.
Thomas said parents shouldn’t assume that a late arrival on the first day means that will be the norm. “Be patient,” she said.