School leaders issue apology as Chesterfield bus woes continue

School leaders issue apology as Chesterfield bus woes continue

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - School leaders in Chesterfield County are apologizing for the dozens of school bus problems that are still happening during this first week of school.

"This has been a nightmare compared to last year," said Leslie Johnson, who has three children in elementary school.

Parents have been reaching out to NBC12 with issues since the first day of school. Parents say they understand there are always a few kinks to work out on the first week, but so many parents are confused, upset and frustrated.

"Our kids got here, I think to this bus stop about 5:15/5:20 an hour and 25 minutes is a long time for those kids," explained Johnson. "This all could have been prevented by letting us know our kids are going to be later--nobody expects them to be perfect."

Parents said their children are being picked up late, and then dropped off sometimes two and a half to three hours after school ends - meaning some kids don't get home until past 6 p.m.

"[My son said] 'am I going to have to sit on the bus forever again?" explained Johnson. "He said 'I like my class, I don't like my bus.'"

In a letter to parents, Interim Superintendent Donald Fairheart is apologizing and says the county is committed to doing better. He said there are 30 vacant bus driver positions and 13 school drivers quit their jobs last week. The county only has 21 substitutes to cover the routes, and that can be one of the reasons for the delays in pickups and dropoffs.

Johnson says the first two days of school her kids were picked up on time and dropped over at least an hour late. Day 3 brought an on time pickup, and her children getting home about 20 minutes late. She did say, communication with the school seemed to increase, but she still questions why things have been so hectic.

"Why did we have 19-20 people quit? I have to wonder if it's not them being paid the national average of a CDL driver," she said.

The school board recently increased bus driver pay to recruit more drivers, increasing starting pay to $14.41.Interim Superintendent Donald Fairheart said 10 new drivers are expected to complete training later this week, and they will be assigned routes immediately.

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Interim Superintendent Donald Fairheart released the following statement:

I wanted to write to thank you again for your patience as we started our new school year yesterday. Your Matoaca District School Board representative, Rob Thompson, and I are aware of concerns about the school division's performance related to transportation and communication this week at some Matoaca District-area schools.

We shared over the weekend that it is normal to experience transportation delays during the first week of school. However, the issues we faced Tuesday and again this morning seem to be greater than in years past. For that, we sincerely apologize. Our performance in certain parts of Chesterfield County this week has not been acceptable. We remain committed to doing better and meeting your expectations for the safe and timely arrival and dismissal of students.

The school division currently has 30 vacant bus driver positions (13 of which occurred last week) and recently accepted the resignation of the area transportation manager serving the Matoaca District. All but nine of those vacancies are currently being covered by substitutes or retired drivers. Our Human Resources team has been focused throughout the summer on recruiting additional drivers, and the School Board has increased bus driver pay so that it leads the region. More than 10 new drivers are expected to complete training this week and will be assigned bus routes immediately. This should help hasten the pickup and dismissal processes at some Matoaca District schools.

Finally, my leadership team is working with principals to enhance communication regarding late morning pickups and buses that depart late in the afternoon. For the time being, principals have been directed to communicate with parents if a bus will be more than 15 minutes late and when all buses have departed for the day. Because we are still collecting parent contact information and inputting that into our parent notification system, our principals will need to communicate with the entire school population regarding delays. Please check every message carefully to see if your child is impacted by the notice.

As I noted last weekend, the high expectations that you have for us are not unnoticed, nor are they taken lightly. We are doing everything within reason to maintain the trust you have had in us regarding the safe and timely delivery of your children to and from school.

Sincerely,
Donald R. Fairheart
Interim Superintendent

The Chesterfield County School Board also issued an apology letter Friday saying, "work this week has not met expectations."

"We are not here to make excuses," the letters continues. "We offer our humbles apologies. These have not been our best days ... we will continue to work hard to maintain or restore the trust you placed in us."

The letter can be seen below:

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