By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — “Ongoing concerns” over tardy special needs students at Marsh Grammar School prompted the School Department to hire another bus at a cost of $300 per day.
The new bus started last Thursday, adding $44,700 to the school transportation budget for the year. A full-180 day school year with the extra bus would have cost $54,000. It will transport only intensive needs students, Superintendent Judith Scannell said.
“In order to address ongoing concerns regarding special education transportation at the Marsh, I have formally requested an additional vehicle to support the special education routes at the Marsh,” Gina Bozek, the School Department’s director of special education, wrote in an Oct. 1 memo to Scannell.
Bozek and Marsh staffers tried adjusting the route of the bus, which transports students from all around the city to each of the four grammar schools, to get the students in on time, but made only limited progress.
“The Marsh Grammar School staff provided me daily updates regarding morning arrival times,” Bozek wrote. “Our last attempt was made on Thursday, September 26th and as of (Oct. 1), the upper school arrival times did improve; however, the lower school arrival times did not. Therefore, an additional vehicle is required.”
Scannell said that because the special needs bus is districtwide, students can arrive at some grammar schools on time, but the bus could be behind schedule by the time it gets to Marsh.
“What happens at the beginning of the year, especially with small buses, it takes a couple of runs to figure out the best route to pick kids up, get kids to school on time,” Scannell said. “If I ask for a backup, I need to make sure I have all my ducks in order.”
Scannell said parents have been contacted to explain to them the changes.
When asked if the buses were 20 to 30 minutes late, she said, “I don’t believe so.”
“If it was that severe, it would have come across my desk,” she said.
Scannell and Bozek said that students who miss a lot of class because of busing issues will make up the time.
“Due to buses running late, I review how it impacts the students’ school day and make the appropriate and necessary recommendations to families regarding compensatory services for excessive time that has been missed once the final resolution is in place,” Bozek said in an email to The Eagle-Tribune.
The students, many of whom go to school year round, could make up some of the lost time during the summer, Scannell said.
North Reading Transportation, Inc., operates the school bus service in Methuen. It bought Trombly Motor Coach Service earlier this year and will honor Trombly’s contract with Methuen Public Schools, George Flynn, a spokesman for North Reading Transportation.
Reached by phone on Oct. 2, Flynn said he had not heard of problems transporting special needs students to Marsh on time.
The School Committee on May 14, 2012, approved a three-year, $4.99 million contract for Trombly to provide busing for Methuen until June 2015. The contract called for 33 buses per year, with the per-day cost of each bus bumping up each year. During the current school year, the contract put the per-day cost at $280 per bus. The total payment this year was listed as $1.66 million.
The contract includes an option for two one-year terms, with $1.9 million for the 2015-16 school year and $1.96 million for 2016-17.
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