Valley Central High School students who were hoping to sleep in a little later this school year are now back to rising bright and early after the first-period bell time at the school was officially moved back to 7:25 a.m. on Sept. 28. The tradeoff for the teenagers is that the schedule adjustment should clear up the frustrating school bus delays that the district experienced during the first few weeks of the semester. Valley Central’s transition to a new transportation provider proved vexing for parents and students, as the East End Bus Lines company struggled at the beginning of the school year to get pupils back and forth from school on time.
The district and the Medford,Long Island-based bus company diligently went through the process of figuring out why residents were experiencing hour-long service delays. “Every morning we went out and they tried to move some routes around,” Assistant Superintendent Michael Bellarosa said. “At first, they tried to move some buses back, but the big goal was to get the middle school buses out on the road on time to be able to get the elementary kids there on both ends, at the beginning and end of the day. It became apparent that even by adding buses, they got to the point that they weren’t going to be able to do it. There were improvements every day, but not to the point where it looked like this was going to happen without moving that schedule.”
At the Valley Central Board of Education meeting last Monday, the administration explained that the decision had been made to revert to last year’s high school bell schedule, which had been switched over the summer to 7:45 a.m. for first period for the 2017-2018 school year. Starting last Thursday, the high school’s first period will begin at 7:25 a.m., with dismissal time of 1:52 p.m., though the middle school and elementary school schedules will remain the same. “At one point the bus company approached us and asked us if we’d consider changing the time at the high school,” Bellarosa said. “They said ‘We believe we’d be successful if you did that.’ So we said we’d do a test run last Friday (Sept. 22), because we wanted to see it happen first. They did it, they were successful. So by the end of the day Friday, we thought they could do it. So that’s how we got to that point.”
There were many factors that led to the delays Valley Central experienced in the opening weeks of the school year, including the switch from First Student to East End, which signed a five-year contract with the district this winter. “I think there were a number of things,” Board of Education President Sheila Schwartz said. “It was the adjustment in the bell schedule, it was a new bus company. They’re not familiar with this area, they came from Long Island. So it was a big adjustment for everybody. They’re still trying to make some tweaks and stuff, but it seems like they’re getting the kids picked up on time and home on time. Some of these routes still have issues, and we’re working with them (parents) on a one-on-one basis to try and resolve their issues as quickly as possible.”
During the public comment portion of the board meeting, Walden Village Trustee John Ramos expressed his disappointment that East End owner John Mensch had not appeared at a school board meeting in person this year to address the public’s concerns. Bellarosa thanked residents for their patience with the situation, noting that as a parent he would have been equally exasperated with the situation if his children’s bus times had been similarly delayed. “I think we all learned more about busing than we ever wanted to know,” he said of the administration. “You felt for the company trying to figure this out, because you saw once you had this mess it certainly wasn’t going to be an overnight thing trying to sort this out. If you’re a parent, you want it to be an overnight thing, for obvious reasons. So it was frustrating. We wanted a solution to it, but we didn’t want to create more of a problem by trying to fix something that wasn’t repairable without a major change. So that’s where it led us finally.”
The district is hoping the adjusted bell times will keep the buses running normally throughout the year, and students will now just have to switch back to last year’s schedule. Only the high school will be affected by the time changes. “With the early first-period start, we’ll be running an abbreviated schedule by about three minutes per period to be able to let the kids out early with the purpose of getting to the elementary school on time,” Bellarosa said of the high school itinerary. “It couldn’t be the middle school because they’d have the same problems. They needed more of a cushion between the beginning of the high school runs and the beginning and end of the middle school runs.”
By Ted Remsnyder