Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pueblo High Students Plan to Ask TUSD Board: 'Where Are Our Buses?'

Posted By on Tue, Aug 14, 2012 at 5:27 PM

Late last week, Weekly World Central got a call from several Pueblo Magnet High School seniors regarding unexpected cancelled bus service they experienced the first two days of school. The students we talked to, as well as several parents and teachers, hope to be at tonight's Tucson Unified School District governing board meeting to describe what happened and demand school bus service be returned to their school during call to audience.

You can read more about what happened to the students in this week's paper online tomorrow afternoon and officially out Thursday, Aug. 16. We wrote about the December 2011 decision by TUSD to hire a private firm for $200,000 to turn around the district’s transportation department in the next year, rather than spend about $94,000 to hire a new transportation director after a failed candidate search. The firm was tasked to work on routing issues and address complaints about buses being late.

Enrique Garcia told us he was ready for the new school year to start, rushed out to greet the bus, but it never came. Daniel Barragan had the same experience. Teachers are reporting that students are getting to school late, and the students report the buses are crowded and some community members aren't able to get on the buses with so many student on board.

In our story we pointed out a letter TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone sent in an e-mail to all TUSD staff on Friday, Aug. 10 welcoming everyone back for the 2012-1013 school. Pedicone praised transportation, contrary to what we learned:

“While there are many things about which we should be proud, the transportation of our students this past seven days should be high on the list. Our Transportation administration, all of the support personnel, and our drivers worked very hard to make sure the experiences of last year and as long as most people can remember were not repeated. Let me tell you that they did it! I want to thank them for their hard work, dedication and willingness to develop and learn new systems in order to see positive results,” Pedicone wrote.

“... the biggest thing that bothered me is that they didn't inform the community of this decision. (The principal) told me he didn’t know about it until that Thursday,” Barragan said.

We asked Pedicone to answer several questions about the bus service issues brought up by the students who were provided Sun Tran bus passes as part of TUSD's transportation program. Due to space, we weren't able to print Pedicone's entire e-mail. We also followed up because several questions were not answered.

He offered this response to clarify the schools 2 1/2-mile policy discussed in the story:

I will have to ask Candy Egbert to respond to some of this but let me clarify the 2 1/2 mile issue. High School students who live outside of the 2 1/2 mile limit get transportation. So, any student who lives 2 1/2 miles from the school that is considered their neighborhood school or to a magnet that they qualify for and who live on a route where Sun Tran operates get passes. If a student lives 2 1/2 mile from the school and does not live on a bus route or is an exceptional ed student, they get yellow bus service.

Candy will explain the rest.

You can read Pedicone's first e-mail after the jump, and we will follow-up on where Pueblo's buses are being used, and what other schools were issued Sun Tran passes. Pedicone said 4,000 students were issued Sun Tran passes. We want to know the cost of those passes and where the money came from in the TUSD budget.

The decision to expand the Sun Tran program was made to be in alignment with Board Policy EEA that requires high school students to be transported on yellow buses only if they live 2 and 1/2 miles or more and do not have access to public transportation. This has been the policy since at least 1981 and revised in 2008. It appears that it was not being followed as directed by policy, and the decision to do so is part of our effort to "fix" our transportation system. As you might have heard, this year was significantly better than in years past, as we implement procedures throughout the district. Things like fixing schedules early and having deadlines for parents to sign their students up for transportation have worked well. All parents were notified by letter during the summer and transportation advisors were at the Pueblo Registration letting students and parents know as well.

This was done at all high schools either during open houses or registration, depending on when the school asked it to be done, since the Sun Tran program expanded this year to come into alignment with policy. The buses that
transported students at the high school level are being used throughout the district as needed. The cost of the Sun Tran bus passes is well within the cost provided for yellow bus students. It is more cost effective in addition
to providing more flexibility for students. The passes are purchased in cooperation with Sun Tran at a reduced cost and students may use them on weekends as well. This should be an added benefit to students. Approximately
4,000 high school students were issued bus passes. The only high school students who did not receive them were students who do not live in an area where Sun Tran is available or exceptional education students who we
transport on yellow buses for their educational welfare. This will be the transportation program as long as the policy remains in effect. The consultant has worked with the district, as we had hoped, to improve our transportation program and that has proven to be effective. We have heard of no situations where students have been threatened on the Sun Tran buses.

They have cameras on those buses so, should there be a concern, we would work with Sun Tran to follow up. Further, Sun Tran has made available additional buses to deploy should there be an overcrowding situation, but to our knowledge that has not been necessary. There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that the yellow buses were removed from Pueblo or any other school for the benefit of any other high school anywhere in the district. Again, this is board policy and has been for several years. There is not attempt to reduce the enrollment at Pueblo. Quite the opposite - we are hoping to grow Pueblo and our other high schools. There has been no discussion of closing
any traditional/comprehensive high schools anywhere in the district. Should that discussion take place, the community would be a part of it and the board would direct it.

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