2008-09-25 / Front Page

Bus overcrowding problem is solved

By Michaela Kennedy

Problems with overcrowded school buses and late arrivals were addressed and hopefully resolved, according to the Jamestown School Committee at its Sept. 18 meeting.

In response to a written request from Christiana Matley of High Street, the committee added school bus passengers to the evening's agenda. The request coincided with a report from the director of student services about school commuting woes.

Matley stood up and read from a complaint she wrote that listed problems she saw on the high school bus, including students standing, three to a seat and other near empty buses passing around the same time. "The bus is always late," she said. "I see the Prout bus go by with six students."

Bus drivers and other parents present at the meeting spoke in support of Matley.

Transportation director Robert Fricklas reported some problems he found after riding the bus for himself the previous day. The large yellow bus has a capacity of 71. Based upon riders from last year, one bus had been eliminated. The maximum number of riders was set at 60 for the high school, less than capacity, but he added, "Sitting three in a seat is impractical, even though we're getting a show that we're in compliance. There were students, even giving their best effort to cram in, who needed to lean in the aisle. If not problematic, it's at least impractical."

Fricklas recommended putting some students on Bus 3 and adding a stop at Howland Avenue and High Street, as an interim plan, "It will rectify the problem and not really cost anything. We will have to make sure parents and students are notified," he said.

Superintendent Marsha Lukon said there were "definitely more riders" than last year's bus counts. She showed concern about the overcrowding on the north end bus for the Jamestown Schools, but added that adjustments had already been made to rectify the problem.

In response to a request by committee member Bruce "B.J." Whitehouse, Fricklas agreed to check if the switch relieved safety issues, and if there were a way to correct the driver's time challenges. "We need to adjust times," Fricklas said. "We were definitely the last bus to arrive."

Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser praised the administration's quick response to the busing complaints. "If we make these adjustments, it may be the long-term solution," she said.

Sherri Messinger of Cole Street was at the meeting seeking answers to why she was relieved of her duties as a bus driver. "I want to know why I lost my job for looking after the safety of these children," she said. "I was told I could no longer drive in Jamestown. I was told it was the school committee's decision to relieve me of my duties."

The school committee asked Messinger for a copy of the letter she received from First Student that blamed the committee for the personnel decision, and said it would research her claim. Committee members assured Messinger they were not aware of the incident.

In correspondence, the school department received a letter from a Lawn Avenue neighbor complaining about buses idling for longer than the allowable time. "He was not impressed with efforts made in the past," Whitehouse said about the letter. "These are our neighbors and we need to be aware of that."

Lukon responded that buses were not allowed to idle at all, "unless it's 32 degrees."

Lukon said she would talk to the bus company about the annoyance. "Why would we want to be putting that pollution in the air and spend the fuel?" she added.

In a food service update, Kaiser reported that Sodexo asked if the school department would consider adding more a la carte items, like ice cream. Committee members agreed they wanted to keep the meals healthy by not offering snacks. However, Whitehouse offered his opinion with a grin, "If you can find healthy ice cream, I think we should have it."

The committee reviewed a proposed bullying and cyber-bullying policy written by the policy committee. The four-page, 12-section draft included consequences of such an act and rights of a victim. A second review of the policy with revisions is slated for next month.

The committee went on to discuss a list of policies that need to be reviewed or drafted, identifying sexual harassment, hiring and substance abuse as top priorities.

In the superintendent's report, Lukon talked about conversations she had with the North Kingstown interim superintendent Phil Thornton. Lukon said the town administrator was asked to consider if Jamestown could accommodate 240 NK students from kindergarten to fifth grade. She expressed optimism that the administration would come up with a plan that could "provide opportunity and mutual benefit to both communities."

Kaiser advised the superintendent that space was the main consideration, not cost. "If you bring in another class of students I don't see how you can lose," she said.

The superintendent reported a request from the town administrator to schedule Oct. 9 as a date for the joint school committee-town council meeting. The committee asked that a date later in the month be suggested, since the panel's first meeting of the month was rescheduled.

In other business, the committee:

• accepted with regret notice of the retirement of business manager Maria Alfred on Dec. 26.

• voted to approve the offi ce transition plan as presented.

• Approved a home-schooling request.

• changed the next workshop date from Oct. 2 to Oct. 9, because of the parent open house scheduled at North Kingstown High School.

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