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Busing issues irk Penn Hills parents

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:05 p.m.

Ellen Lydic is ready to submit a mileage reimbursement slip to the Penn Hills School District for driving her son to school.

She was one of several parents at Monday's school board meeting who expressed frustration about the state of school transportation, which the district outsourced to First Student Inc. beginning in the 2011-12 school year.

On three occasions, Lydic said, she drove her son to school because the bus never showed up.

“My son waits at the stop for half an hour before coming home, and he has no bus,” she said.

Parents lodged similar complaints in the initial months after the Penn Hills School Board terminated its contract with Amalgamated Transit Union No. 1552 in favor of First Student. They said buses were up to 45 minutes late and didn't pick up students after school.

Complaints still come. First Student Area General Manager Phil Eades acknowledged parents' frustration.

“We're well aware that we've caused some aggravation on some of the routes,” he said. “We started the year with a full complement of drivers, but we've struggled with attrition, we've run into recruiting by other districts, and we've also had to turn away some drivers who do not meet our standards.

“I'm confident that you're going to see the consistency and reliability you expect.”

Former school board member Erin Vecchio said drivers aren't to blame for the scheduling problems. “You have to blame First Student,” she said.

First Student driver Beth DePalma said the school district distributed unrealistic routes.

“According to my route schedule, I have to get from Jefferson (Road) and Key (Drive) to Mt. Carmel (Road) in one minute — that's not possible,” DePalma said of the roughly four-mile distance.

She said one reason drivers run behind schedule is that district pickup rosters routinely include children who do not attend the schools. Penn Hills has nearly 4,000 students.

Board member Jennifer Burgess-Johnson said she's not happy about the situation.

“This is not $5.1 million worth of our tax dollars,” she said of the First Student contract. “We are paying you for a service and we expect to receive that service.”

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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