FRAMINGHAM – The company awarded a contract to get about 6,000 Framingham students to and from school every day, on time, is struggling to meet the requirements of its contract.
Buses have been cancelled for athletic events, buses are showing up to schools after the first bell, and some buses have had no drivers, Source reported exclusively on Tuesday.
In 2016, Durham School Services was awarded a new, $29 million 5-year contract in 2016 for bus services for Framingham Public Schools, but two years into the contract, and Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay is concerned about the service the company is providing the public school district.
This afternoon, October 17, the Superintendent and Framingham Public Schools Executive Director of Finance and Operations Lincoln Lynch IV will have a conference call with the Chief Operating Officer of the parent company of Durham.
“I have serious concerns with Durham, and their ability to get our students to school on time,” said Framingham Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay to Source on Monday.
Last night, Tremblay wrote to parents: “We are aware of and are continuing to address the issue of late arriving and/or cancelled bus runs. A meeting has been arranged with our bus vendor to address these concerns which seem to be stemming from a shortage of bus drivers. We are looking at a variety of solutions and appreciate everyone’s understandably waning patience. While there are certainly more details around this complex topic, the purpose of this brief is to simply acknowledge the problem and provide assurance that we are working to address it as quickly as possible.”
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.
Durham has told the public school district it is short bus drivers, and can’t find substitute drivers.
Source contacted Durham and they said they are working to fix the situation.
“Recently, we have experienced an increase in drivers calling in sick or not showing for work, which has caused route delays,” said Durham School Service media spokesperson Virginia Aparicio.
“We have been committed to maintaining 110 percent driver staffing to ensure we are covering every route each day. However, we are now recruiting for 115% staffing to make sure service is maintained when drivers become ill or aren’t able to make it to work,” said Aparicio yesterday afternoon.
“We are working with the City to improve proactive communication regarding route delays and potential cancellations. Additionally, we are currently training four more spare drivers to provide coverage during these instances, as well as receiving assistance from drivers at neighboring Durham operations,” said Aparicio when asked what the company is doing to make sure buses run on-time and athletic buses are never cancelled again.
Durham School Service told Source is has fewer drivers for Framingham this school year compared to last year.
Durham has hired “75 full-time drivers, as well as six spare and three casual part-time drivers” for the 2018-19 school year.
In the 2017-18 school year, Durham had “75 full-time driver, as well as eight spare and four casual part-time drivers,” according to the company spokesperson.
Starting drivers are paid $24.75 an hour, according to Durham’s spokesperson.
After one year, the rate increases to $26.11 per hour, she said.
Durham said it is “currently offering applicants a $2,000 sign-on bonus and current Durham drivers can receive a $500 referral bonus.”
The company spokesperson said Durham is participating in an upcoming job fair on October 25 “to get the word out that we are looking for safe drivers to join our team.”
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.
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 at $250. There is 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.
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.
“Getting the students to school well after the first bell is unacceptable,'” said Lynch.
“High school routes are starting late, and then it causes a domino effect for the rest of the runs,” said District 2 School Committee member Ricky Finlay. “I’m upset, and I heard from several parents who are upset.”
“Three routes did not get covered yesterday, and the athletic buses for the high school were cancelled,” said Finlay. “This is not fulfilling the contract.”
“I believe a student’s transportation to and from school and school athletic events is an earned right and must be reliable,” said Adam Freudberg, Chair of the School Committee.
“When a contractor isn’t meeting the terms of an agreement it is up to the Superintendent to address this and seek to improve the situation for all involved. I’m grateful Dr. Tremblay and Mr. Lynch immediately scheduled a meeting to work collaboratively with the contractor so these problems impacting our community can cease immediately,” said Freudberg Tuesday afternoon.
“A comprehensive update on FPS Transportation had already been planned on the School Committee’s long-term agenda for December 5th. In the meantime, this week’s agenda includes an update on this situation from Dr. Tremblay and FPS Executive Director of Finance and Operations Lincoln Lynch,” said the School Committee chair yesterday afternoon.