Approximately 1 out of 5 Boston school buses is arriving late to school — four weeks into the new academic year — prompting Superintendent Brenda Cassellius to hire an outside consultant to help fix the problem, she announced Wednesday night.
“We are not meeting the standard our families deserve,” Cassellius told the School Committee as she announced her external review. “We cannot be satisfied with buses not arriving before the bell.”
Tardy buses have been a chronic problem in the Boston school system for years, and patience among families is running thin.
In recent days, about 19 percent of buses have been arriving to school late in the morning, while about 18 percent have been tardy for the afternoon dismissal. The rates are about 2 to 4 percentage points worse than last year, depending on the day being compared.
On the most extreme end of the tardy buses are those — 1 percent of all buses — that are arriving to school more than a half-hour late. One Friday night earlier this month, some parents at the Eliot K-8 Innovation School in the North End resorted to Ubers to get their children home after they waited three hours for a bus that, as it turned out, was never going to show up because the driver called in sick.
The rates, however, are better than the first day of school when 57 percent of buses ran late.
“While the numbers are headed in right direction, I’m still not satisfied,” Cassellius said.
The consultant that Cassellius has tapped is Michael Turza, former director of business services for the Milwaukee Public Schools. He was recommended by the Council of the Great City Schools. Cassellius said Turza’s schedule is not firm yet but said he will probably work two or three days a week every other week. She added that he is committed to staying through the start of next school year to see the implementation of short- and long-term solutions.
The estimated cost of Turza’s contract is about $50,000, a school spokesman said.
Cassellius, who took over the helm of the 56,000-student system in July, has made clear since the start of the school year that she was not happy with the bus performance and has already taken some steps to tackle the problem. In August she hired an additional 31 drivers and has repeatedly warned families about the late buses in letters and robocalls using her own voice.
It won’t be an easy problem to fix. Two years ago, the school system turned to a group of MIT researchers to develop a sophisticated computer model to plot bus routes in an effort to improve both on-time performance and efficiency. But on the first day of school that year, only 44 percent of buses arrived to school on time, down from 51 percent the previous year. Part of the problem was drivers leaving the bus yards late, with less than a third departing on time. Bus performance improved in the subsequent days and weeks.
School Committee members appeared encouraged by Cassellius’ determination.
“I’m glad you are not only saying that is not good enough but you are doing something about it,” said Michael O’Neill, a member.