Rural bus stop locations can be contentious

(Photo by Phil Roeder)

Angie Minew

Saugerties parents should be receiving their children’s school-bus-stop information at the end of this month. A few people may not be happy. One of them is former member of the school board Angie Minew, who claims an issue about an unsatisfactory bus stop has not been addressed by school officials.

Minew recently moved to a new house. There’s an elementary-school bus pickup in a church parking lot along State Route 9W in West Camp, which she says her new neighbors have informed her has only been in use for the past two years. Efforts to leave the stop along Patterson Road, where it was previously located, reportedly went unheeded. Minew said that a bus headed to and from the junior-senior high school still stops at the Patterson Road location.

“What happened was the bus driver didn’t like doing the route this way, and that was the end of it for the elementary kids,” Minew reported. “What happens now is a large bus comes, and it drops off and picks up a high-school boy exactly where we’re asking for our stop to return to. And it then it turns around and goes to the school like it’s supposed to.”

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For elementary-school students, Minew explained, walking to the bus stop involves crossing three streets, including Route 9W, that they wouldn’t have to cross if they were picked up at Patterson Road.

“The district claims that they did a bus survey five years ago and deemed that the stop was not safe, and that the stop was not existing at all,” Minew said. “That’s not true on both counts. I was on the board five years ago, and I was the chair of the transportation committee. Their response is that it’s not their responsibility how the children get to the bus stop. So I said, ‘Then what does it matter if you cross the street to get on the bus stop that’s existing?’ How is it safe to walk up 9W with no shoulder? Honestly and truly, it could pick kids up on the other side.  We’re just asking to use the same bus stop as the high school. We’re not asking for anything special. This affects about 15 neighborhood kids in the area and about ten kids that I provide [daycare] services for. The parents have been shut down for the past five years.”

Saugerties schools superintendent Seth Turner said he wasn’t able to address specific parent concerns. He did speak about how bus routes are created. They’re not often changed. Much of the planning for a given school year happens during the spring and summer.

“As the end of a school year comes around we have new registrants for kindergarten or we have people coming into the district,” Turner explained. “We have addresses and daycare request forms, and they need to be turned in by April 1, and private-school placement requests as well. We then begin to plan roughly what the bus routes will be. Students going from sixth grade into seventh grade, adjustments get made. It happens organically. That all comes into the puzzle, and over the course of the summer bus routes are worked on and finalized.”

Turner said that the district uses Versatrans, a school-bus routing program designed by Tyler Technologies, a Texas-based software company.

“The computer will generate a pretty good idea of what will work, but it takes individual oversight to double-check and make sure,” Turner said. “We transport — I’m shooting from the hip right now — close to 2000 students. It works pretty well, but if there are concerns bus drivers practice those routes during August, and if they identify an issue we can make changes. But typically there aren’t any drastic changes year-to-year.”

The district traditionally errs on the side of student safety, Turner said. In 1996 the voters decided that elementary-school students in the district living over a half-mile from their school be offered bus transportation, and any junior- and senior-high students living over a mile and a half from the school be offered the same.

Minew said she’d raised the issue with the district’s business manager, Lissa Jilek, but hadn’t received an acceptable response.

“It’s usually a bus-driver issue, but in this case Mrs. Jilek has the final say, and I think she’s a business manager and shouldn’t be in charge of transportation and maintenance and custodians and finance and everything under the sun,” Minew said. “I’ve been in communication with her since February, and I’ve been getting nowhere. We’re not asking for anything crazy. We’re not asking for a new stop to be created. We’re asking to use the same exact stop that they use for a large bus for the high school. I don’t see what the problem is.”

Turner said the district takes all school-bus issues seriously, but isn’t able to make everyone happy. “We are very much driven by policy and law, but there is flexibility to allow for the safety of everyone involved,” said Turner. Issues should first be addressed with building administrators.
“We follow the chain of command. You always want to bring your concern to a building principal in this case. They may not be able to address something transportation-related, and that would get kicked up to the business office. And there’s only been a handful of situations where we’ve had to go and review. If there’s a concern, we send out our people to take a look at it, whether the issue comes from a bus driver or parent. If potentially it’s not safe to stop a bus due to visibility or speed, we will review them.”

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