By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The buses that serve Renaissance Middle School are not arriving or departing on schedule, and are not following assigned routes, parents said last week.

Buses were arriving at Renaissance at 9:30 a.m., well after the 8:05 a.m. start time, said Julianna Brinley, the parent of a sixth-grader at Renaissance. She also alleged that afternoon buses pulled away from the building without students who had just been let out of school.

Brinley said that she had left numerous voicemails with the district about the issue.

The district issued an email of apology to parents on Friday, Sept. 20. In the email, Transportation Director Christine Harris explained that a new bus company is handling Renaissance Middle School students, and the drivers are still learning Montclair’s routes.

“Please accept our apologies for the delay in clarifying bus time and stops for the Renaissance routes. As you know, we had to hire a new company this year in order to accommodate the school's adjusted bell times. This company is new to the district and is taking them longer than anticipated to settle into their routes,” Harris wrote.

The district contracts with Essex Regional Educational Services Commission for its busing services. The commission provides the buses through 25 bus companies, according to school officials.

The new company was hired through sealed bid, and was responsible for routes serving Renaissance, said Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea. The company’s drivers started practicing the routes in late August, he said. He confirmed that the buses have been occasionally arriving late at Renaissance, but he said some improvements have been made to the buses’ on-time arrival rate.

Harris said the district was in contact with the new bus company, identified as Eastern Star, and with the commission, to get the buses back on route and on time. In addition, the district had school staff ride along on the buses to show new drivers the best way to navigate each route and to obtain more accurate stop times.

“This process should be completed by the end of next week [Sept. 27].  At that time we will send out another message to all parents/guardians detailing each stop with the associated stop times,” Harris wrote.

Parent Stella Gilgur-Cook also wrote a letter to the district after receiving the email from Harris. “While I appreciate the mass email, I refuse to put my daughter on a bus until this and multiple other issues are resolved,” she wrote.

She claims that along with issues of timing and route planning, the drivers do not follow safety precautions such as making students walk across busy streets or intersections to get to and from buses.

“It is confounding that this would not be addressed and even more confounding how the district could hire a new bus company without seemingly any quality control, training, or preparation,” she wrote.

Her daughter did not arrive to school, on at least one occasion, until 9:30 a.m.

D’Andrea said he could not confirm parents’ allegations of safety issues, but said he was aware of parents’ concerns.

Two years ago the district also ad problems with bus routes and schedules. In 2017, buses reportedly missed stops along bus routes, and changed routes and schedules. Parents also complained that the district did not release the year’s bus schedule far enough in advance of the new school year.

Then-Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak at the time said there was a transition in transportation staffing and in service providers.