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Framingham School Committee Calls on Durham School Services to Immediately Improve On-Time Bus Performance

FPS Seal LogoFramingham Public Schools
Robert A. Tremblay, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools

Adam Freudberg, Chair, Framingham School Committee
afreudberg@framingham.k12.ma.us 
508-688-2056

Rochelle Santos, Media & Communications Manager
Framingham Public Schools
rsantos@framingham.k12.ma.us 
774-388-7121 


For Immediate Release 12/18/19  

FRAMINGHAM SCHOOL COMMITTEE CALLS ON DURHAM SCHOOL SERVICES TO IMMEDIATELY IMPROVE ON-TIME BUS PERFORMANCE

Financial and contractual penalties are on the table if January performance does not improve; the Durham employee driver shortage continues to be chronic, negatively impacting student achievement, health and well-being. 

Framingham, MA – Tonight, in response to chronic challenges caused by Durham School Services employee shortages, the Framingham School Committee, Superintendent, and City Solicitor called on Durham to make immediate changes when students return to school in January, or face financial and additional penalties in February.  During the current school year, Durham was short at least one driver for 48 of the first 63 days (76%) of school, causing patterns of numerous lengthy delays of more than 45 minutes, stressful situations, children waiting outside in below freezing temperatures, and missed time on learning at school.

“It is absolutely imperative that our students get to school everyday and on time.  The inconsistency and unpredictability of our busing service is standing in the way of that,” said Superintendent Dr. Robert Tremblay.  “Our families, staff, and administrators have been patient for too long. Learning is being impacted and employment of our families has become compromised as a result of late busing and subsequent late arrivals at work.  Our community deserves better service than this and we demand that it be corrected.”

The driver shortage is the single largest reason buses are late.  That is solely Durham’s responsibility. Traffic, weather, and behavioral issues often cause delays, yet not at the level that is requiring drivers to double or triple their planned routes to make up for other Durham employee’s absences. 

“We can no longer wait past January for the definitive results and the no excuses mentality we have been seeking from Durham - because I believe a student’s on time transportation to and from school is an earned right,” said Adam Freudberg, Chair of the School Committee and District 4 Member.  “This action serves to look out for those most impacted by late buses, our students and their families. The funding Framingham Public Schools invests to educate students does not reach its target when a student is not in class.” 

“Durham’s mission statement featured on their website states: ‘Getting students to school safely, on time and ready to learn.’  In Framingham, the data proves that this statement is not accurate. Durham must do better so our students actually do arrive on time and ready to learn,” said Geoffrey Epstein, District 6 School Committee Member and Chair of the Finance & Operations Subcommittee.  

Specifically, the School Committee and Superintendent requested of Durham:

  • When students return from winter break on January 2nd and everyday following, Durham must have at least 76 drivers show up and drive the 76 routes in both the am and pm.  It is solely Durham’s responsibility to provide the correct number of drivers to meet the route requirements. They are falling short of their contractual obligation when they deliver students late to school because of missing drivers and they must remedy this basic breach of contract.  It is their responsibility to determine how to do so, but ideas include bringing in drivers from other communities, raising hourly wages, subcontracting work (with written FPS permission per Article 11 of the contract), offering additional benefits, and providing individual case management and support to drivers calling out for work. 

  • If the situation does not improve during the month of January, financial penalties will begin for Durham in February.  The City should not have to pay for substandard services. The City further reserves the right to seek reimbursement from Durham to compensate the City for all of the untimely services provided to date under the contract.

  • On average, there have been  approximately 150 children transported by Durham that are arriving late for school each day.  Based on an average per pupil cost of more than $17,000 per year, this results in approximately $2,400 in lost instructional time each day. 

  • Durham must remove all snow from the roof of buses before routes commence.  Durham must take appropriate steps to have staff in place at earlier times to complete this required safety measure.  The Framingham Police Department has already warned Durham, and a second round of complaints occurred since. This must cease immediately or further steps will be taken if and when a third violation occurs. 

  • If improvements are not made by the end of January, the City reserves the right and will take steps to issue an invitation to bid in February 2020 for school bus transportation services starting in the 2020-21 school year.  This action would mean that the city would be seeking a new bus contract one and a half years earlier than planned.

The City Solicitor is providing notice to Durham’s CFO tomorrow, requesting that Durham resolves these items by January 31, 2020.

The Contractual Agreement between the Framingham Public Schools and Durham School Services are in the fourth year of a five year contract that provides all Framingham students home to school, school to home, field trips, and athletic trip transportation.  The contract began July 1, 2016 and, unless terminated by the City earlier, ends June 30, 2021. Click here to read the current contract.

Over the last few months Framingham Public Schools has fielded hundreds of phone calls and emails complaining of late buses due to Durham’s staff shortage.  Additionally, this specific feedback has come into the School Committee and FPS staff by multiple residents and parents:

  • “This issue is burdening our students and schools, and I am asking for your vigilance and support to help fix it.” -FPS Parent

  • “We understand that drivers can call in sick and there may be an odd day where there are issues.  But persistent issues on a daily basis, and the lack of clear, accurate and timely communication is simply unacceptable.” -FPS Parent

  • “My son’s bus continues to be anywhere from 20-45 mins late on a daily basis.  I am working through lunch at work to make up for lost time, every day. And even worse, my son is frequently late to school.” -FPS Parent

  • “I find it hard to believe that such a protocol is not yet in place when a system exists to do exactly what we need it to do.” -FPS Parent

  • “The lack of enough qualified bus drivers should not be a problem this far into the school year.  Recruiting and training should happen during the summer. Setting expectations for drivers to arrive on time, ready to work, every day, should be part of the training process.  A realistic contingency plan to cover for sick drivers should be in place from the start—delaying an elementary route so a driver can cover a middle school route is not a contingency plan; in fact it shows a lack of planning.” -FPS Parent

  • “As a consumer of Durham's services, I expect FPS to take strong actions and stop these issues and prevent a recurrence of them.” -FPS Parent

  • “It is unacceptable to have continuous and persistent issues with bus timings.  Moreover, It is beyond unacceptable to tolerate the lack of communication about the same.” -FPS Parent

  • “The information about the overall service changes should be provided in my opinion for transparency, and should be the responsibility of Durham to produce this information.” -FPS Parent

  • “There can be so many other options that can be done to improve the situation as it stands right now and not wait for a new contract.” -FPS Parent

  • “If Durham can’t provide the services it committed to, it should be under some sort of obligation to subcontract to another company who can.  Or, if all these avenues have been exhausted, it’s time for Framingham to create and roll-out its own solutions.” -FPS Parent

  • “To summarize: there have been 13 days of school in February.  My daughter was delivered to school before the 9:05 bell just once.” -FPS Parent

  • “This sort of chaos is what I say is unacceptable.” -FPS Parent

Tonight’s additional action was taken even after a series of recent improvements agreed upon by the district and Durham, at the urging of the School Committee’s Finance and Operations Subcommittee, Superintendent, and Finance & Operations Director.  While these actions are promising and continue to have potential, the School Committee and Superintendent determined that these deadlines were now necessary after more than a year of chronic challenges for Durham to deliver upon the contractually obligated number of driver’s needed per day to cover routes.

Recent changes to improve on time performance, customer service, and more include:

1. Communications to families regarding delayed buses will continue and will be as accurate as possible.  Updates from the Framingham Public Schools Business Office to families will be more frequent, starting with bi-weekly reporting.

2. A Mobile Application (app) that can be downloaded on a smartphone will be available later this spring.  The app will allow users to securely track their child's bus (and only their child’s bus) location as it moves throughout the route.  This will reduce the need for parents to call the Transportation Office to determine the status of their child’s bus, and provide much needed knowledge to those waiting.  The app must be piloted first to ensure it works as planned and is customer friendly, before being rolled out to the entire district. The pilot is scheduled to begin in January-mid February at Brophy Elementary School, and then will go district-wide in the spring. 

3. Daily Meetings between Durham School Services and FPS are ongoing and serve to ensure clear communication about morning routing, afternoon routing, field trips, and athletic busing.

4. Benefits to Durham employees were announced in early December.  Good attendance, longevity bonuses, as well as paying new drivers for training time were proactive moves FPS appreciates Durham moving forward with. 

5. A study is underway to provide data and insight for future decision makers on the future of the next busing solution once the Durham contract is completed.  This study is reviewing the actual savings or lack thereof since the Town Meeting decision of 2011 to contract out for bus services. The study is also researching the fiscal impact of bringing busing back to a government run system. 

6. Daily reports are to be provided to FPS, the School Committee, and public in terms of uncovered bus routes, departure and arrival times.  Durham has been notified that a request will be made on a daily basis for their “In and Out reports” which they have agreed to.

7. The Framingham Transportation Department also is making changes to improve their own shortcomings with efficient routes, communications, and customer service.  FPS Transportation has a major role here too, and are committed to fix the areas outside of the Durham contract they are responsible for.

About the Framingham School Committee
The Framingham School Committee is responsible for exercising co-leadership with Superintendent Dr. Tremblay in the vision, planning, policy making, evaluation, and advocacy for the mission of continuous improvement of student achievement in the district.  Under our Superintendent and Administration, the School Committee is committed to operating within this purview to best serve the schools and the community. 

 

About Framingham Public Schools
The mission of the Framingham Public Schools is to educate each student to learn and live productively as a critically-thinking, responsible citizen in a multicultural, democratic society by providing academically challenging instructional programs taught by highly-qualified staff and supported by comprehensive services in partnership with our entire community. For news, updates, and announcements, follow Framingham Public Schools (@FraminghamPS) on Facebook, Twitter, and (@framinghamschools) on Instagram. You can also join the conversation using #FraminghamSchools.

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