The busing problems Racine Unified School District students and parents experienced in the first two weeks of the school year went well beyond the growing pains of a new service provider.
About 95% of Racine Unified’s bus routes were on time during the second week of school, said Stacy Tapp, RUSD’s chief of communications and community engagement. That’s an improvement upon the first week, when buses ran more than an hour late or didn’t show up at all.
First Student Inc. Spokesman Chris Kemper said the entire company is focused on daily improvements in service until, “we reach the standard we all expect.”
On Sept. 9, a bus full of 4K Olympia Brown Elementary School students was running about 90 minutes behind schedule.
Emily Ross’s 4-year-old daughter was on that bus, which should have dropped her off around 11:30, after classes ended at 11:05. Ross’s daughter got home at about 1 p.m. Ross attributed the delay to the driver being unfamiliar with the area.
Ross added that some of the children, including her own, wet themselves because they were on the bus for so long: “That shouldn’t happen, ever. It’s inexcusable.”
Ms. Ross is absolutely right.
Racine Unified’s contract with First Student allows it to begin incurring liquidated damages for late buses following the first two weeks of the school year. Sept. 16 marked the start of the third week of school.
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Unified can dock the contractor’s pay by a quarter of the cost of the use of a bus for arriving at school for drop-off or pickup 15-30 minutes late. It can dock the price by half for a bus that is 30 minutes or more late.
The contract also stipulates that the maximum time a student should spend on a bus for a one-way trip is 60 minutes.
Tapp said the district is holding off on any decisions regarding contract compliance for the moment.
“Our first priority is to ensure that all bus routes are running on time consistently and that First Student is fully staffed with drivers,” Tapp said. “At that time, we will review all performance reports from these first weeks of school to determine what, if any, action will be taken in regard to contract compliance.”
First Student needs to show dramatic improvement. The on-time rate should be 100 percent; transporting students to and from school in a timely fashion is the whole job.
If it does not improve Unified should look into, if not dumping First Student entirely, extracting concessions from the company for the duration of the contract.
Financial penalties are good in a broad sense of holding a service provider accountable, especially when public money is involved.
But financial penalties don’t mean much to the mom wondering where her child’s bus is, or to the 4-year-old who wet her pants because the bus driver is incompetent.