The wheels on the bus go??? late, off-route, and terribly mismanaged

School started last week for one of the highest performing middle schools in Columbus, the Columbus Collegiate Academy (one of Fordham's sponsored schools). With the start of school comes the start of familiar problems with student transportation. While a few glitches during the first week are to be expected for any school, this year what's happening to the kids, their parents, and CCA (under the operation of First Student ??? the sole transportation provider for Columbus City Schools), is appalling.

In six days of school, only four of the buses that service CCA have been on time. School starts at 7:50 a.m., and First Student buses have dropped kids off as many as two hours late. You can imagine the impact this has on lost instructional time (not to mention the level of frustration experienced by parents, some of whom are new to the school).

Today, a driver actually showed up without kids on the bus, told the school leader that he didn't know what happened, and that someone else picked up his route. He relayed that he knew this because he'd followed the other bus the entire route and watched the other driver pick up the kids. (This doesn't exactly lend itself to cost savings.)

The school leader reports that kids are waiting one to two hours at a stop, and then just go home because a bus never shows. Perhaps it's following behind another First Student bus somewhere in Columbus.

And this is just in the mornings.

An afternoon driver recently told a student that her stop wasn't on his route (which is contrary to the routing information CCA and Columbus City Schools had). The driver actually made the student call her parents to come to where the driver was, and then he left the girl before her parents arrived.

Perhaps the most egregious instance, however, was that to the CCA school leader's horror, a driver that CCA had requested be fired for inappropriate conduct while on the bus last year (the driver was reassigned to other routes) was back behind the wheel and assigned to the school.

What does this mean for this school that serves 93 percent free- and reduced-lunch kids, will be rated Effective this year (no small feat for any school in its second year) and whose seventh graders were 100 percent proficient (yes, that's right, 100 percent) in math and 93 percent proficient in reading in 2010? Here's what it means: calls from angry parents regarding the buses (over which the school doesn't have any control), and adverse impact on school culture ??? which is key to good academic results. Seriously, how is a school expected to establish daily norms while kids are coming ??? or not ??? and going throughout the day?

While parents should be up in arms about the real questions of safety that the ineptness of this operation raises for the kids who are supposed to be transported by First Student, let's hope that none of them take their frustration out on CCA by removing their students and avoiding the transportation hassle. To do so would mean a missed opportunity to have their child attend the best middle school in Columbus. Meanwhile, taxpayers and the Ohio Department of Education should be appalled and should move quickly to fix the situation. Bus routes aren't rocket science.

- Kathryn Mullen Upton, Fordham's director of (charter school) sponsorship

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