By Curt Peterson
Monday night’s Windsor Central Supervisory Union board meeting began with disgruntled and worried parents who are finding the 2022 altered school bus route and stops both challenging and frightening.
David Martin and Megan Rudy, both of Woodstock, Elizabeth “Bitsy” Harley and Anna Sessa, a board member of Reading, and Amy Pomeroy of Bridgewater cited dire situations that brought them to the board seeking relief.
The old bus stop arrangement provided a degree of safety for their kids and convenience for themselves, they said, but the new stops force their young children, some 10-11 years old, to walk significant distances on busy state highways such as Route 4 in Bridgewater and 106 in Reading, often with no shoulder. This is bad enough now, they add, but in January, when it’s snowing and dark when it’s time to catch the bus or get home again, it will be worse than dangerous.
And the parents’ work schedules mean they can’t provide transportation to school or help the children get to the bus stops.
“I am not going to have my son walking to the bus stop on Route 4, in the dark, in winter,” one mother said.
Superintendent Sherry Sousa acknowledged the parents’ fears, and asked the board to authorize a survey of all parents as soon as possible.
Sousa and Rayna Bishop, who is district administrative assistant and board secretary, provided background. Prior to adoption of the new busing policy, they were receiving 50-60 requests for special accommodations regarding safe bus pickups. Trying to help on a case-by-case basis only made matters worse, inspiring additional complaints and requests, and testing the bus drivers’ ability to get students to their schools on time. The result was new rules by which all parents, students and drivers would be required to abide.
The goal was to have one mile between bus stops along the routes. In order to design the new route system, Sousa said, she asked Butler Bus Co. for necessary information – “Which, and how many students get on at what stops?” The administration didn’t even know how many students were using the buses altogether.
Two problems made the project difficult, Bishop said — Butler was not responsive to the district’s request for information, in part because the bus company was desperately short of drivers and administration staff.
Ben Ford of Woodstock said adding too many stops might require an additional bus, suggesting the board would have to measure severity of the individuals’ situations against the cost of adding a bus.
Bryce Sammel of Barnard said one bus might not be enough to accommodate every difficult situation. He said it might take six buses, not just one.
Making the bus service more convenient and safer might lead to a large growth in bus use, Carin Park of Barnard, said, and increasing ridership would be “a good thing”.
Rayna Bishop said the survey data is necessary, particularly since the bus company won’t provide good information. “Making decisions without the necessary information is what got us in hot water in the first place,” she said.
Todd Ulman of Woodstock said gathering the data is important, but suggested the obvious safety concern requires immediate action for people who have brought their plights to the board.
“Let’s deal with their dire safety issues right away, before something happens” he said, “then when we have the data, we can do something more long term.