Remarks to the Ann Arbor School Board, October 26, 2016

I spoke to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education tonight during Public Comments, about the difficult bus situation the past seven weeks of this school year. There were seven speakers and, per board meeting rules, each of us received four minutes to address the board. I knew other parents from our school would be speaking too, so I trimmed a lot of what I wrote and tried to focus on a timeline of confusing and frustrating events leading up to Monday morning’s cancellation of our route. The greyed-out passages are things I WOULD have said if time hadn’t been an issue.

Good evening. I am Britain Woodman, father of two Ann Arbor Open students.  We have used the bus service for 5 years.  There have been bumps along the road, but nothing like this year so far.

August 24th: Initial bus routes were released, 13 days before school started.  Our local route would have had my 1st grader cross Stadium Boulevard, then walk .9 miles home.  We asked Durham by email if there would be a crossing guard and received no response.  We were not the only parents who had problems and thank goodness, Durham did eventually adjust the stops.

Friday, September 23rd: at least 3 different bus drivers told children riding home that “bus routes are changing MONDAY, be sure to have your parents check online for new times.” Our principal sent a message out to reassure us all that no, routes were not changing.

Wednesday, October 5th: children riding in on the buses received a flier that said routes were changing TOMORROW. After emailing about the lack of notice, lack of communication and the fact the routes were being changed for the worse, they once again held off on the route changes.

Friday, October 21st: we get an email at 7pm, stating bus routes are changing with links to the new stops.  It had almost the same schedule as handed out October 5th, and continued to be earlier times than before for one entire bus route and 3 other stops.

Open and other AAPS families have had buses break down, buses running 30+ minutes behind posted schedule during AM and PM routes.  Buses getting lost, going the wrong way.  I was compelled to come here tonight to address the Board when Bus 124, the one we have emailed about since August) was cancelled. How was 124 chosen? It has the most riders and picks up furthest away from Open.  Why not cancel a route with fewer stops, closer to the school?  The kicker is we received the notice 30 minutes AFTER the bus was to pick up our children. I found out about the cancellations standing at the bus stop, finding Friday’s message to show another parent who hadn’t received it.  I accompanied my girls to the stop on Monday, but other kids walked alone.  We heard reports of students riding with other parents in unsafe conditions (no car seats, with people they didn’t know).  We’d like to know what criteria are used to choose which routes to cut.

We have received various reasons about the “new” uncoupling from middle school routes – they vary from kids were left too long unattended to having to adjust start/end times to cater to Open, but yet you want the Open kids to arrive by 7:45 this year which also makes the route times earlier.  Last year, there were no problems using the Open buses for Abbot & other routes after AM routes.

It feels like the district is attempting to end bus service for AAO by making the current service so unpleasant that many of us with means give up and drive in, then the district will eliminate the service due to low ridership. By making bus stops at times that are difficult for families, many are choosing to drive now.  Are you going to expand the parking lot or take any other measures to mitigate the dropoff/pickup situation at Open?  Drop off/pick up are already tedious at best, and dangerous at worst.

I urge the District to reconsider these changes for AAO – especially for route 124.  Only three other stops for ALL of Open students are earlier, with this week’s changes.  All eight that remain on 124 are earlier.  This feels like we are being punished for choosing a school far away. Open wants their student population to represent the entire city of Ann Arbor, but the inequity in busing is only going to hurt this.

We’ve emailed and called Durham.  We’ve emailed Meg, our principal.  Only Meg has responded. We feel as though our voice isn’t being heard and our children are being left behind.   In addition to my own children, I’m here to speak for the children whose parents don’t have email or didn’t even know the bus routes were changing Tuesday.  We heard reports that several students are not listed as bus riders in PowerSchool so were never notified of bus cancellation.  We know other families have no reliable transportation and did not go to school on Monday.

Please work to address these concerns with Durham:

# 1 Communication. Respond to emails, calls, and tweets.  @DurhamSchoolSvc appears to be mostly a house organ, sharing positive PR from their Facebook page. I tweeted the account on Monday hoping for good news about the afternoon buses and received a response an hour later asking to call them, which…

When you call Durham, they simply put you on hold. They don’t even ask if they can. When we were trying to locate our 1st grader last week, it took 10 minutes to connect with Durham. Schools are not notified of any problems, including when a bus was lost for almost an hour and a half. No one called Open — they found out because a parent came in.  

And yesterday, a bus driver was telling students there were no buses home tomorrow (the early release day). This led to multiple parents worried about how their children were getting home.

# 2 Schedule “Fixes.” They don’t seem to fix anything. They aren’t making our stop times better. Why change them??

# 3 Inequity. It’s unfair to ask some students to arrive at a bus stop an hour before school starts when this is not the case for other K-5 buildings.  Dawn Linden addressed the AAOCC meeting last night and said our times for bus riders were inline with other schools.  Assuming they all need to arrive 15 minutes prior to start of day – as we are told Open’s must.

Our four longest routes are bus 130 (35min), bus 91 (37min), bus 123 (38min) and bus 124 (43 minutes).  Wines has one bus route with a 55 minute route.  Abbot has ONE 38 min, Logan & Burns have ONE 37 each, King has one 35 minute route.  We are more in line with Middle School bus times – though even Tappen and Scarlett’s longest routes are ONLY 43 minutes (the other three do have longer routes).  But out of 18 elementary schools, only 5 bus routes have times close in length or longer than our four longest.  And 2 of the 5 middle schools have only ONE route each as long. 

(I think it’s worth noting here that Mack, the school building has a very linear layout and the Brooks Street bus entrance drops off in “the center” of the building. It’s a minute and a half to any point in the building from the bus drop-off area.)

Bus 124 also services the most students – counts at Open before and after school show this.  Which leads to the next question….

#4 Knowing who is on buses.  The bus route changes and route cancellations have shown that many of our students are NOT listed as bus students.  Which means their parents are not being notified via email.  Which is not good.  Durham needs to work with AAPS to ensure accurate information is on PowerSchool.  Who is in charge of this?  AAOpen has the most stable population in the district.  It shouldn’t be hard to know who or where are students are.

#5 Reliable/Accurate stop/pick up times. Our children take bus 121 home and it consistently arrives 15-20 minutes after the posted time.  From other social media posts, we see this happens across the district.

I went to MYA and Community High. My family lived in a rural area of Scio Township. The buses picked us up before dawn and dropped us off near dusk, especially in the winter months, but at least they ran on time. That was thirty years ago. We can do better than this. Thank you for your time.

I really regret not working in the above paragraph. Would it have meant more if I self-identified as an AAPS graduate? It sounds like the Board has heard our frustration — though Dr. Swift, our superintendent, seemed to imply buses weren’t on their radar at all until Monday.