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City's School Bus Drivers Fear Pupils Are at Risk in System, Seek Changes

May 01, 1985|DENNIS CUSHMAN | Times Staff Writer

Complaints by school bus drivers have prompted the Board of Education to reconsider the San Diego Unified School District's bus-route system.

The drivers have charged that frequent changes in routes and drivers add up to "extreme safety hazards."

The board originally was scheduled to discuss the complaints Tuesday, but postponed the session until next week so that drivers who claim the system is jeopardizing the safety of schoolchildren can attend the meeting.

A study conducted in 1980 resulted in a cost-cutting reorganization of the Transportation Services Department.

In a recent letter to the school board, Dan Stephens, director of the district's transportation services, requested a follow-up study to address the drivers' concerns.

Stephens said the 1980-81 reorganization has "provided cost controls and more efficient utilization of bus fleets, personnel and resources" in busing the district's 13,500 students enrolled in the integration and special education programs.

He credited the system, which makes use of frequent route, stop and driver changes, with saving $4 million annually.

But the frequent changes have drawn fire from many bus drivers, who formed a committee to voice their concerns to Stephens and Frank Mattox, assistant superintendent for business affairs, who oversees the transportation department.

The committee charged that the frequent changes--as many as nine a month for some drivers-- do not allow drivers to become familiar with their routes, do not allow drivers sufficient time to perform "dry runs" and do not allow drivers to establish any rapport with the students.

Additionally, the drivers say, many students are picked up late from their stops and some miss their buses entirely as a result of the frequent changes.

In letters to the school board beginning last November, the drivers warned that "safety hazards that have been created by (the planning department) may soon explode into a fatal accident."

Many of the drivers complained they were "unable to become familiar" with their routes, which they called "vitally important to exercising safe driving habits."

Committee member Jeannine Eddy said, "The bottom line is we're transporting lives, not heads of cabbage."

The drivers said students, teachers, principals and parents all have expressed concern over the new system.

One parent, whose daughter is a special education student at Wiggin Elementary School, said drivers "just about get used to a route and they switch them over."

Jan Rose, mother of 15-year-old Tracey Taylor, said, "On one bus, they must have had three or four bus drivers--they're late. After school, they have had a problem getting the kids home on time--(as late as) 5 to 6 p.m. It's unheard of.

"I don't know why they keep switching. It causes problems all around. It's helpful for special education children to get to know the driver--to know what to expect, how to behave," she said.

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