Newburgh parents and students may notice that during the first few weeks of school the buses are often delayed or unpredictable. However, Sue Young, grandparent of a Newburgh Free Academy North high school student, views this year’s busing schedule as a “big mess.” Her grandson, who rides a Gallagher bus several times a week, was picked up from his Liberty street bus stop for the first time the morning of September 18, two weeks after school had already started. Young noted that, as the last stop on the route, the bus has often been late, arriving at 7:00 a.m. or later. Because students have to be in their seats by 7 a.m, Young said parents often “give up by 7” and drive their students to school.
“Maybe it comes after seven some of these days, but that’s unacceptable. I know we aren’t the only bus route, and I know he’s not the only one getting picked up late, based on the reaction of the school,” stated Young.
The Newburgh Enlarged City School District (NECSD) currently operates approximately 190 school buses transporting students to and from its schools. The NECSD Director of Transportation, Mark Connolly, noted that the beginning of the school year usually requires additional adjustments to busing schedules in order to meet every student’s needs. On the first day of the 2017 school year the department received over 350 requests from parents or caregivers to update student information, which frequently requires updating bus routes. These requests happen most frequently during the first few weeks of school. The department stated that it works as quickly as possible to resolve any issue or complaint.
For Young, the Gallagher bus company’s failure to pickup her grandson is an “on-going problem,” one that started and continued all last year. She estimated that last year her grandson had to be driven to school once every two weeks because his bus failed to arrive at the scheduled time. Young is quick to point out that Newburgh residents are paying for this busing service with their taxes.
“I know things happen, I get that. But it’s consistently a problem…We are paying for this service. We are all in the city of Newburgh paying for this service,” stated Young.
Ed Gallagher, president of Gallagher Transportation and Leprechaun Lines, says, however, that this year has been better than previous years. He stated that all the complaints that have come to his attention so far have already been resolved. He candidly admits the company isn’t perfect, but argues that as a family business operating out of one location they do better than most.
Gallagher explained that between the time the bus company sends their bus routes out to the school to publish the information and the first day of school, “there can be hundreds of changes.” But he states those alterations are normal. Gallagher explained that often the changes are due to new students that registered late for school, or alternate stops such as a grandparent’s house that need to be included. New additions can overfill buses, requiring them to either reroute the bus or send secondary buses. Gallagher asserted that fluidity and good teamwork between the bus company and Director of Transportation Mark Connolly, are key in the beginning of the school year.
“We have very good staff here. We just keep moving and make the changes as requested…just the first week of school — no matter how well you think you have it planned – it’s always changing, and you have to be fluid and rectify situations as they arise,” stated Gallagher.
Gallagher added that new to the buses this year is GPS tracking equipment, enabling bus dispatchers to track buses in live time and ensure they are stopping at all their scheduled stops. Gallagher encourages parents or caregivers to call the bus company if their child’s bus is arriving or dropping off late. “We have multiple people in the office who can respond,” said Gallagher, adding that dispatchers can get directly in contact with drivers or use the GPS to give parents a status on the bus’s location along the bus route.
Young said she called both the school and Gallagher bus company multiple times in the first two weeks of school, but didn’t see results until she called angry and frustrated on September 15. Young was troubled by the effort it took to get her and other parents’ voices to be heard.
“What really bothers me is why, if all these other parents are calling, did my [September 15] phone calls get through? Was it because I was angry?”
Gallagher said he was able to speak with Young on September 19, and that the two “had a good conversation.” He noted that Young’s grandson’s bus issues have been resolved, and that the busing company is continuing to keep a close eye on the situation.
By Lauren Berg