Parents report problems with Manatee school bus stops

nalund@bradenton.comAugust 25, 2010 

MANATEE — West Bradenton resident Dan Lawson said he had no choice but to drive his 7-year-old son to school Tuesday morning.

That’s because the bus his son has taken to Prine Elementary for the past two years didn’t show up at its stop Monday. Or Tuesday.

Lawson wasn’t the only parent in the Manatee County School District forced to drive their child to school for the same reason.

Because of a computer software glitch, inactive bus stops were listed on the district’s website even after school started Monday.

“Some of the stops should not have been listed,” schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal said Tuesday. There was no way, he said, to determine how many of the district’s nearly 4,000 stops were listed incorrectly online.

“We’re using a new software for routing this year and it’s been slow for us to implement online,” McGonegal said. “When they (the district’s vendor) did the download, it pulled in both active and inactive stops from last year. The drivers are running the right route, it’s just when the parent looks at the Internet, they think the stop is there.”

Some of the inactive stops remained online through Tuesday afternoon. As of 4 p.m., they had all been removed from the district’s website, McGonegal said.

McGonegal also said the district’s transportation department is short-staffed. The district’s route specialist, who manages the bus stop portion of the district’s website, has been out on medical leave. And Steve Merrier, the district’s assistant director for transportation, resigned Aug. 14 to spend more time with his family.

“The timing prior to the beginning of the school year was unfortunate,” said school district spokeswoman Margi Nanney. “It’s been very unfortunate and we’ve done the best we could to work through it.”

Manatee School for the Arts Principal Bill Jones said a few of his students were late Monday because their bus did not show up.

But he said school leaders were warned ahead of time of the potential issue.

“To be honest, it didn’t go that badly,” Jones said. “On Monday, transportation sent over two of their people who sat out here in our cafeteria working with kids to figure out what bus they would be on. It was incredibly slow and tedious.”

Students at the charter school typically depart around 5:30 p.m. On Monday, the last bus got students home around 7:30, school officials said.

“So yesterday was quite an aberration,” Jones said. “But in defense of the district, they made a really good-faith effort to deal with the problem. Yes, kids were late. But many of them called their parents from a cell phone to say, ‘We’ll be late.’ ”

The record rainfall didn’t help, either.

After standing huddled under an umbrella for 1 1/2 hours Monday, Lawson learned Tuesday — after driving Tyler to Prine — that his son had been changed to a walking route.

Most children who live less than two miles from school are not bused by the school district. But the district makes adjustments every year.

On his way home Tuesday morning, Lawson drove past the stop.

Like the day before, about a dozen children and their parents stood there huddled under umbrellas.

“I told them, ‘No more bus stop, no more bus stop,’ but most of them spoke Spanish,” he said. “It’s a shame. They’re probably going to be there tomorrow morning, too. But I hope not.”

Parents with questions on their child’s bus stop are asked to call (941) 782-1BUS (1287).

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