AMSTERDAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Parents say their bad first day in the Greater Amsterdam School District has turned into a horrible first week. Leslee Dominelli says she will speak her mind at Wednesday’s school board meeting and ask why the district hasn’t come up with a solid plan to get her 7th grader to and from school.
“Monday was her latest day. She came home almost five o’clock, and I believe I got information about 4:45 that the kids were late,” Dominelli explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “My daughter had actually asked school staff to call me and say listen, we are going to be late, can I call my mom? The response was that it already went out in the app.”
Parents are supposed to get bus updates from the “Parent Square” app, but Dominelli says notifications come an hour or even two past dismissal. She and other parents say the messages are not only late, they’re too short to be reassuring.
“[The messages] are so generic. ‘These buses are going to be late’ — okay, that’s alright, but how late? When are the buses expected to be picking these children up? There’s no specific information for any of this,” says Dominelli.
“You can’t contact them personally through the app to ask questions. You leave a comment, but they don’t reply so it’s like you’re talking to yourself on the app,” says Destinee Robinson.
They also say no one has yet answered their questions on what schools are doing with students during those delays.
“Are they being watched while they’re sitting at school for two hours? Are they getting snacks? Are they getting drinks? There is no plan in place for these kids and how they’re getting home or how they’re being monitored,” Dominelli says.
Robinson and Melinda Gerard are also going to Wednesday night’s meeting. They spoke with NEWS10 on Friday about how hard their sons with autism are struggling through the start of school.
“Stephen still doesn’t want to go to school. He cried this morning asking me if he could stay home, and I feel bad because you can’t leave them at home because then we are going to be the ones getting in trouble,” says Robinson.
“I had pulled Zachary out, but they threatened me with truancy if I didn’t send him back,” Gerard says.
“The bus has to go from his school to the high school to pick up kids and then back to our house. We live around the corner from the school district, there is no reason that he should not be dropped off on time, but because there’s only one bus in the whole school district that has a wheelchair ramp, he’s still always late,” she goes on to say.
Gerard says the bus scheduling makes it difficult when planning how to pick up her younger children from their school. She and Robinson also say their biggest communication worry is that Lynch Literacy Academy still hasn’t sent out emergency contact forms.
“We have yet to get anything back from the school about contact information in case something happens to our children and this is week two,” Robinson says.
NEWS10 reached out to Superintendent Rich Ruberti on Wednesday, but did not get a response. Ruberti had previously said he was not made aware Brown Transportation, which is contracted to provide the district with school bus drivers, was seven drivers short until the first day of school. He also said he planned a meeting with Brown Transportation to discuss increased route schedules on Friday.
A Brown Transportation representative responds with the following statement:
Brown Transportation, like many other student transportation providers, is currently experiencing a shortage of eligible bus drivers for the 2021-2022 school year, primarily due to unforeseen challenges caused by the pandemic. Unfortunately this has impacted our ability to fulfill routes for the Greater Amsterdam School District in a timely manner, leading to delays in getting children to and from school.
The driver shortage has been an ongoing issue for providers across the country, even pre-pandemic, and the public health crisis ultimately exacerbated the problem. This includes many unanticipated retirements, mostly due to health concerns from those with pre-existing conditions and those who are at a higher risk for COVID-19, as well as a limited applicant pool of new recruits. Adding to the complexity are extended unemployment benefits, which in many parts of the country paid more than the part-time and hourly jobs previously held by CDL drivers. Plus, the process of onboarding new drivers has also been even further delayed as many of the certification and licensing procedures have become backlogged over the past 18 months.
While hiring continues to be a challenge, Brown Transportation has made significant investments in recruitment initiatives and is optimistic that we will continue to grow our team. We are running active recruitment campaigns, supported by full-time recruitment and training staff members who are eager to support new candidates through the onboarding process. Our Amsterdam location offers paid training and has increased driver wages. These efforts have helped us to bring in several new candidates who are currently in our training program, and we are continuing to interview new drivers that are looking to make a real difference in the community.
From an operational standpoint, we have been in communication with Greater Amsterdam School District throughout the summer and daily since the school year began regarding anticipated staffing challenges and are working in partnership with the District to analyze bus routes in order to identify ways to further maximize our services. Our organization remains optimistic that through a collaborative effort, we can minimize service disruption and find qualified candidates that are looking for a rewarding career.
These local moms say they’re not satisfied and will continue pressing the district to take action.
“The lack of consistency, it’s counterproductive at this point. You want to be in person, you want to make sure they’re getting what they need in person, but you’re not actually meeting those needs,” says Dominelli.
The Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education meeting will be at 6 p.m. in the Amsterdam High School media center. The meeting will also be streamed live on YouTube.