BETHLEHEM — Elementary school students are sitting three to a seat on some of the district’s buses, filling them to capacity with up to 66 children on some routes. Officials say more buses are needed to fix this.
Voter approval is required for the additional $1,413,000 necessary to purchase the 15 buses Bethlehem Central School District Transportation Department is requesting. This sum would not only be used to replace aging buses, but to also add at least one additional route for each of its four elementary schools.
“When you have 50 or 60 kids and they’re behind you, and you’re trying to drive a big vehicle – that’s a lot to manage,” said Transportation Director Cindy Jurewicz during the Wednesday, March 2, School Board meeting.
“For elementary parents, this is the number one complaint,” said board member Joanne Cunningham. “It sounds like it’s become a little mayhem for the students.”
While adding the routes would not necessarily reduce student commute or wait times, a reduction in the number of students would allow for better passenger management, as each bus driver is solely responsible for the behavior of all students he or she is transporting.
“When you talk about student management, and that is the bus driver’s responsibility, student management becomes a problem,” said Jurewicz.
The additional routes would bring average bus attendance at the elementary level down to 40 children. Currently, the average bus transports about 50 children. Prior to 2013, an average of 30 to 40 elementary students were transported per bus.
A bus’ maximum seating capacity is 70 children. However, fitting three students in a single seat can be uncomfortable once they begin bringing snow gear in the winter and travelling with instruments and projects, said Jurewicz. “We’ve had parents call and ask, ‘Can I send my child home with their friend?’ and that will just depend on how many students are riding,” she said.
Jurewicz has proposed to replace 13 buses that have aged significantly and purchase two more to account for student need. When replacing, some costs are returned as older buses are sold for profit at auctions.
Based on the district’s projections, 11 buses should be replaced each year. But, because there were a number of years where budget strains did not allow for the purchase of new vehicles, the transportation department is asking for 15 this year to catch up.
“Some of these buses slated for replacement are well over 100,000 miles, some are as much as 120,000 [miles], 130,000 [miles] and up,” said the district’s Chief Financial Officer Judith Kehoe.
Ten of those new buses would be large buses and five would be small. The request this year comes behind last year’s resident-approved purchase of 10 new buses.
Voting on this year’s proposal will take place on May 17, along with the school budget and school board elections. Two seats will be contested, as board member Michael Cooper will seek reelection, while board member Diane Giacone Stever will not. Petitions to run for the seats are now available, and 64 resident signatures are required to run.
The next School Board meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 5, in the high school library beginning at 7 p.m.