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Bus 7 spoils Highlands' otherwise smooth ride

| Friday, Sept. 2, 2011

School officials promised that the busing system's performance would improve after a chaotic, delay-ridden first day Wednesday.

It did -- but not by much -- for the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders traveling from Grandview Upper Elementary School in Tarentum to Fairmount Elementary in Brackenridge, where parents waited to pick them up.

That journey, less than 1 1/2 miles, took an hour and 20 minutes Wednesday.

Thursday it took almost 50 minutes, but parents were just as irate and frustrated.

Students are dismissed from Grandview around 3:30 p.m. and supposed to arrive at Fairmount at 3:40 p.m.

At 3:50 p.m. parents and younger siblings were getting restless as they waited under a hot sun. Pat Graczyk, assistant to Superintendent Joseph Latess, was on hand to help with any problems at Fairmount. He made a call to Grandview.

"They left five minutes ago," Graczyk reported. "They should be here at any time."

But at 4:05 p.m., Larry Chifulini of Brackenridge, who was waiting for his granddaughter, a fifth-grader at Grandview, said, "This is unacceptable."

"Yesterday, it was 10 (minutes) to 4," he said. "Nobody knew what was going on. That was the problem."

Asked how her daughter, a fifth-grader, responded to the delay on Wednesday, Holly Pukal of Brackenridge said, "Mad, disgusted, didn't want to ride the bus."

She said her daughter was apprehensive about it Thursday morning but Pukal told her they were going to give it another chance.

"I said 'Hannah, it has to be better than yesterday,'" Pukal said.

"We have no idea where our kids are right now," said an angry Jeff Thimons, husband of school board member Laura Thimons, and father of a fourth-grader.

At 4:18 p.m., Bus 7 finally pulled up to the curb at Fairmount, only a few minutes after one man, angered by the situation, had confronted Graczyk, using some obscenities. Graczyk asked him to stop because young children were nearby, but the man continued to use them until Graczyk threatened to call the police.

After conferring with the bus driver, Graczyk told the parents who were waiting for an explanation that teachers were on board the buses Thursday to help things go smoother, and the teacher aboard Bus 7 would not allow the driver to leave each of the five stops until he had done a head count.

Graczyk said that slowed everything down, but it was done to make sure that students were getting off at the right stops.

"If we didn't do that, it probably takes 10 minutes," he said, "but I would rather err on the side of caution."

Overall, Latess said the transportation situation was "98 percent improved," with the exception of Bus 7.

"We're not taking it lightly," Latess said of that delay. "We're meeting again tomorrow with the bus company, and we'll get it straightened out."

"It really was much improved," he said. "It will be better tomorrow and by next week the kids should all be in a routine and it will be a lot easier."

William Roenigk, head of the W.L. Roenigk Inc. bus company, was not available for comment, according to an unidentified woman who answered the business' phone.

For the parents, it's a wait-and-see proposition -- not only regarding the busing problems but the school realignment the district put in place this year that made the busing changes necessary.

"They should have just let well enough alone," said Derek Ruediger of Brackenridge as he waited for his son, Dominic, a fifth-grader. "This can't be saving them money. I had friends of mine who lost their jobs because of (realignment)."

George Sosnick of Harrison, whose daughter is a fifth-grader, said, "It's going to be a lot quicker for me to go down there (Grandview) and pick her up."

"I still don't see what this realignment is saving the district," said Jim Watts of Brackenridge, another Grandview parent. "I'll give them a few more days. I'll try to be patient."

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