By Annette Newell
For the second day, parents in one of the largest school districts in the country are left scratching their heads and frustrated.
With 48 fewer buses out on routes this school year because of budget cuts, there were many reports of bus mix-ups on Monday. Those reports continued into Tuesday, the second day of school.
“It was just a mess for everybody,” Laura Sokol-Meade, the mother of a Wake County student, said. “They have cut 53 or so buses and cut the budget and it has to come from somewhere, but there are just not enough buses for the number of students and this is a big problem.”
The Wake County Public School System urges parents to call or submit a complaint online. Still, the complaint does little to relieve parents who are expecting to find their children on a bus but are left in the dark.
“We were scared, we didn't know where he was,” said Sokol-Meade, whose son attends Olive Chapel Elementary School in Apex. “He's six years old; he doesn't always remember his phone number. They changed the bus routes — we didn't know if he was lost.”
She added, “We couldn't believe we weren't getting phone calls.”
Parent Amy Lee had a similar experience on Monday when she says her 9-year-old daughter was left at the school with at least 10 other kids who also rode the same bus to North Raleigh.
“The school called — it was about 10 past 5 p.m. — saying there are five buses that should be getting to the school soon to pick up the kids,” Lee said. “I then get a call from my daughter on her teacher's cell phone at 5:45 saying, 'Mom, I'm still here, the bus still hasn't come.”
Lee says she can understand bus stop confusion on the first day of school in some neighborhoods, but she can't understand not having buses at the school to pick up kids at the end of the day.
“In the seven years that my children have been in school, it's never been this bad,” she said.
Sokol-Meade agreed, “We were just perplexed. We couldn't believe this was happening. And we were frustrated.”
Wake Schools Superintendent Tony Tata said transportation staff, teachers and principals all stayed with the children to make sure they got home safely.
He says there are 900 buses, making 2059 runs, 25,000 bus stops, carrying about 80,000 students.
“We appreciate the contact and the communication, and keep letting us know until we get it right. And we're gonna keep working on this until we get it absolutely where it needs to be,” Tata said.
He explained that Wake Schools eliminated between 40 and 60 buses in order to meet state efficiency standards so the district would not lose millions of dollars in transportation funding.
“We were probably ambitious in the number that we took off, the number of buses that we took off the road, and we will put back into the system what's needed, to make this right for the families of Wake County,” Tata promised.
Until Wake Schools can remedy the problem, Sokol-Meade says she will not entrust her son to a school bus.
“We're not going to trust the bus until we know it's settled,” Sokol-Meade said.
“[Our son]'s being picked up by his father today. He has a playdate tomorrow. I'm walking him home the next day. We'll see what next week will bring, but for the near future we are not taking the bus.”