FRAMINGHAM – Yesterday, Framingham High Athletic Director Paul Spear was told just after noon, he would have no buses for athletics.
That meant, the Framingham High golf team had to find its own way to its match against Newton North to the BraeBurn Country Club.
The girls on the Framingham High swim and dive team were told at lunchtime, they had to find their own way to get to practice at Keefe Tech after school.Normally, a bus takes the team to the pool from the high school for 2:30 p.m. practice.
The Framingham High junior varsity football game had to be cancelled, as there was no bus to transport the team. There was also no bus for the girls soccer team.
Durham School Services was awarded a new, $29 million 5-year contract in 2016 for bus services for Framingham Public Schools, which included athletics. But Durham is struggling to meet the terms of its contract, at the moment.
Recently, there was no driver for Bus 43, and the bus company informed the school the earliest they could get students to school was an hour after it started.
“I have serious concerns with Durham, and their ability to get our students to school on time,” said Framingham Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay yesterday to Source.
Tremblay said he and Framingham Public Schools Executive Director of Finance and Operations Lincoln Lynch IV have scheduled a 2 p.m. meeting with Durham School Services for Wednesday with its Chief Operating Officer.
Framingham Public Schools has more than 9,000 students and about 6,000 students use the 75 Durham buses to get to and from school.
“I am very concerned with Durham fulfilling their contract,” said Tremblay to Source.
“This is unacceptable,” said District 2 School Committee member Ricky Finlay.
“Three routes did not get covered yesterday, and the athletic buses for the high school were cancelled,” said Finlay, this morning to Source.
Durham has told the public school district it is short bus drivers, and can’t find substitute drivers.
And when Durham can identify substitute drivers, the drivers are getting to the bus yard later than the normal drivers, which means the bus company is starting the Framingham High routes late. High school runs start just after 6 a.m. and students are scheduled to be at the high school no later than 7:20 a.m.
Framingham operates on a tiered bus system, so if the high school runs start late, then all the routes in the morning, are late. Add in Framingham traffic, construction in the City of Framingham, and students are getting to school way after start times.
Here is how the tiered system works. First, bus driver pick up and drop off Framingham High students. Then, those bus drivers do a second bus run, which included the 3 middle schools, the Christa McAuliffe Charter School, and McCarthy Elementary. When done, the drivers start the third run of schools, which include the elementary schools and BLOCKS. And then they repeat the three routes in the afternoon, starting with the high school just before 2 p.m.
“McAuliffe scholars have also been impacted by bus delays and driver coverage this year,” said Christa McAuliffe Charter School’s Executive Director Kirstin Harrison. “We’re committed to working collaboratively with the Framingham Public Schools Transportation Department as they problem solve the current busing challenges.”
Lynch said he spoke to the Durham COO yesterday, who assured him they are doing everything they can to get the buses running on time.
“Getting the students to school well after the first bell is unacceptable,’ said Lynch, who said late buses to the schools has been a problem for the last two weeks.
“High school routes are starting late, and then it causes a domino effect for the rest of the runs,” said Finlay. “I’m upset, and I heard from several parents who are upset.”
Source contacted Durham last night and again this morning. No calls were returned yet.
Lynch said there were no problems with bus service when school started the year in August, but the issue with a lack of drivers began about two weeks ago.
Bus drivers call in sick, and while Durham has standby drivers, there have not been enough to cover the Framingham Public School routes. Then, the company needs to find substitute drivers for routes.
Yesterday, there were high school and middle school students delivered to their Framingham schools after the first bell.
Framingham received just three bids for bus services back in 2016.
The bids were:
- Durham School Service – $31,678,790, over 5 years for an estimated $6.335 million per year.
- Five Star Transportation Inc – $34,265,282.56, over 5 years for an estimated $6.843 million per year.
- Durham School Service (with used buses) – $29,150,309, over 5 years for an estimated $5.83 million per year
Framingham chose to go with Durham for a second contract bus with used buses at $29.1 million over five years. The contract ends in 2021.
“We got sold a bill of goods. We were guaranteed we would never have this problem with buses. It is really upsetting as a School Committee member that they are not getting our kids to school, and not getting our high school students to sporting events. Games and practices should never be cancelled due to a lack of buses. It may be time to start looking at other vendors, or even considering bringing bus service back into the district,” said Finlay this morning to Source.
The first bus contract was awarded to Durham, and then the second contract was awarded to Durham.
“It may be time to re-look at the district employing the bus drivers,” said Finlay.
In Framingham, students in grades K-6 ride the bus for free, if they live 2 miles or more from their school.
If they live closer than 2 miles, parents may purchase a bus pass at $250 per child for the school year, if a space is available on that bus route.
Buses are not free for students in grades 7-12. Parents must purchase a buss pass. There is a with a family cap of $500.
Students on free or reduced lunch can apply for full or partial waivers.
Editor’s Note: in full transparency, I have a daughter who rides the bus and our family pays the fee.
“I have faith in Bob (Tremblay) and Lincoln (Lynch). I anticipate they will have an update on the problem for the School Committee Wednesday night,” said Finlay.
Lynch said he is hoping to get confirmation from Durham that they will have more than enough substitute drivers every day so that this situation that happened yesterday, never happens again.