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Waterbury parents concerns grow over school busing, highlighting disconnect with district administrators

Despite a chorus of parent concerns, Waterbury's Superintendent told FOX61 she is not disappointed in the bus company's service

WATERBURY, Conn. — The chorus of concern has gotten louder over the last 24 hours. Parents in Waterbury are upset about what they say are safety, communication and timeliness issues with school busing in the city. This, as the new school year, is just two weeks old.

“School buses are overcrowded,” Diana Velez said. Isomer Ortiz agreed saying, “Overcrowded buses, definitely.” '

But there seems to be a disconnect between parents and district administrators. 

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“I have not heard anything from anyone saying a bus was overcrowded,” said Dr. Verna Ruffin, the Superintendent of the Waterbury Public Schools.

Nearly 100 comments flooded the social media page of Waterbury’s community forum on Facebook in response to FOX61’s original story shining a light on parent concerns. 

But Dr. Ruffin told FOX61, “The issues that you just brought up. Students waiting hours. We have not seen any evidence of that.”

Parents told a different story. 

“I have one kid who gets out at 3:00 p.m. and doesn’t get home until 4:30 p.m. so the bus rides are really long for them,” explained Ortiz.

The concerns are also continuing following the revelation that a 4-year-old was dropped off alone on busy West Main Street, 30 minutes from her home. The bus company, Durham School Services, declined our request for an interview for the second day in a row. 

They blamed it on a routing software glitch and said they, “apologize for the inconvenience.” Ortiz said, “My kid's life is in your hands so I am going to be upset.”

Credit: FOX61

FOX61 received reports that Waterbury’s school bus coordinator has been hard to reach. FOX61 called Jeff Hunter two days in a row. Our messages have not been returned. 

“Then when you go down there and you're upset and you’ve built up all this anger they…say don’t come at me like that. Well?” said Ortiz.

District administrators essentially told FOX61 that if you haven’t received a phone call back in response to your concern to call again. 

“To anyone who feels their call has not been returned expeditiously. They need to let us know. Not only are we staffed to respond to parents and the welcome center and Jeff Hunter's office but there’s a large number of my staff who are answering phone calls,” said Ruffin.

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Parent Diana Velez told FOX61, "I put my kids through the Waterbury Public Schools and honestly, we had our ups and downs...at the end of the day we just need our kids home and safe and on time."

Dr. Ruffin told FOX61 that this year, unlike last, staffing isn’t the issue. They have 119 bus drivers for 107 routes. She also said they will continue to evaluate routes to determine the quickest and safest stops to drop children off. 

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"We know for a fact that students are arriving home much earlier this year than last year when we did have a critical shortage of bus drivers," said Dr. Ruffin.

Durham School Services bus drivers are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union. They told FOX61 that over the last several years, Durham School Services has been plagued by mismanagement. They claim the company has either eliminated routes or added stops to some routes in order to cut costs at the expense of timeliness and safety.

Matt Caron is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at mcaron@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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