Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Certainty (a school bus rant)

It's heartening to know that some things around our "rich" little, but increasingly "effed up" town are absolutely predictable. In addition to the steady rise of our ridiculous property taxes (which include a side of ridiculously high extra bonus prize taxes just for owning a car, especially a new car, which is one of the reasons I refuse to give up my fall-apart 10-year-old Toyota), we in our little town can utterly depend upon

screwed-up school bus schedules and actual transport (or lack thereof) for at least the first three weeks of school.

(P.S. Just for the record, do not start thinking you can discount me among that inveterate group known as "Mommy bloggers." I'm not one, although much of the material I get for my blog comes from the two younger family members. I consider myself just a friendly-fire casualty of my children's existence, not a militant advocate for it. The two stances are mutually exclusive. No militant momism here, I promise. Just a healthy concern for bus safety.)

Anyway. For the first time in the life of our delightfully dysfunctional family--and we do put the diss in dysfunctional--we have FINALLY lived in one town for more than three years, meaning we are getting to know what it's really like, not just what it seems to be like on the surface. Before that, we moved, nomadlike, from tent to tent all over the country and even the world every six months to one year. Therefore, it's the first time I've had an opportunity to gather enough data from a place to know what was actually "usual" for any particular locale. So, coming into this interesting long-term tenancy situation, I naively thought:

Q:Hmm. The buses seem screwed up today, kinda like last year. Oh, and the year before. And it's soon to be four years now, so part of the year before that. [BTW, shouldn't buses be spelled busses? This has always bothered me, but I insist on spelling "cancelled" with two ls, also.] But, I continued to think, Alfred E. Newmanlike, "What? Me worry?" How screwed-up can the bus(s)es get?

A: Way screwed up.

One interesting bit of "long-term town" trivia is that on Wednesdays the public schools are dismissed early. This goofs up everything for everyone. Someone has to be home for the kids at a silly time in the afternoon only on Wednesdays, such as 1:15 for [sometimes irresponsible] high schoolers and 2:30 for elementary students. This has been going on for years, but I find it difficult to have a wrench thrown into my schedule midweek, and with kids moving up the ranks to different school-level schedules, I still make mistakes. Many's the time I've been out running errands on a Wednesday, found myself in a clogged grocery line, looked at my watch and said, "#@$$ !!! I have to be home in three minutes or the kids are stranded!" and had to high-tail it home. Worst case, on several occasions I've left the elder, Thing #1, waiting and sweating outside the door for ten or fifteen minutes.

[Please do not tell me
just to give them keys. It's not like I haven't thought of that. But Thing #1 is 100% item-challenged and either loses or breaks everything he is given, touches, or sees, so something as critical and security-laden as a key is out of the question. The neighbors can help in emergencies--that is, if they're home.]

Anyhoo, I'm getting off topic. The point is that it's still the first week of school and it's the first goofy Wednesday. I am shaking in my boots, in anticipation of the kids' arrival or non-arrival on the doorstep. The younger one (let's call him Thing #2, since we do) has a trumpet lesson at 3:15. I look at the school schedules and calculate the arrival time of each kid. If Thing #2 comes home on schedule, he'll have plenty of time to get to his lesson. Time comes and goes . . . neither bus shows up on time. Or even half an hour late. It becomes clear that just enough time has passed that we could not possibly get to the uni in time for the trumpet lesson.

The elementary school calls me to inform me that Thing #2's #2 route bus had been involved in a minor accident on its middle-school route, meaning a glitch in the bus's arrival at the elementary school (they rotate the same buses for all three school levels). It dawns on me that this has happened before--with the same bus driver, on the same route, last year. That turned out to be a trumped-up acident. Maybe there are con artists who specialize in this sort of thing.

I accept that elementary kid's bus is going to be late, but it's a problem because this is the day he is to start his new session of private trumpet lessons with a Broadway orchestra pro at chez chic University, and there are few behaviors more heinous than standing up a professional music teacher. I call up the lesson division at the uni, giving a message and being assured that the message will be delivered. Shortly after it's time for the trumpet lesson to begin, Thing #2 shows up.

A quick check of the school district's master calendar confirms that, unlike the other school levels, the high schools occasionally, but sporadically, have what's known as a "full Wednesday." Just to keep us on our toes, you know. The full day dismissal time as well as the normal bus arrival time have both passed. Then I call the high school. Where is the #39 bus? "Well, they have been running late in general. But today we also had full Wednesday, which means that the bus routes are competing for the same time slots, so they are later than ever." Brilliant.

Sure. I shoulda known. And I'm supposed to think that's fine?

Phone then rings immediately after I hang up. It's the trumpet instructor. "Where are you guys?" she asks. I then tell her I had called and left a message and the receptionist had assured me that she would take the message right down to Room 141 along with my apologies. I'm mortified, embarrassed, the receptionist was a liar (naaahh, just too busy during the first week of term), and we have stood the instructor up for the second time in 11 weeks.

While waiting for the buses to maybe arrive, I called Thing #1's best friend's mom to find out if best friend had gotten home. No answer.

All told, despite "short Wednesday" and "full Wednesday," the kids show up somewhat later than regular time.

Immediately after Thing #1 arrives, the phone rings. It's Thing #1's best friend's mom asking me if Thing #1 has arrived. I tell her I had called her earlier, then tell her what I know.

This is not all. Thing #1 is still listed on the #39 route, which this year for high school shows no morning bus stop anywhere near our house. There's a stop in the afternoon fairly close to our house that used to have a morning run and which he used to take in the morning a couple of years ago. So, all told, this year's schedule means he can't go to school using this stop, but he can come home by it. So I sat right down and wrote those folks a letter (for the fourth year in a row).

In fact, Thing #1''s only morning options involve walking on a winding, tree-lined, hilly, narrow, sidewalkless, shoulderless road for miles. The school starts at 7:30 a.m., so he'd have to start walking at, oh, 6:30 a.m. to get there in time to not miss the bus. In the winter, this road is also dark, and snow plows rapidly course down it. That in itself is very hazardous, but when the plows go by, they make a tunnnel with snow walls. Motorists drive very fast on this road, and cannot possibly see a pedestrian before it is too late. (In fact, joggers have been killed on this road in the best of weather.) The pedestrians have nowhere to go--they can't jump over an ice wall to get out of the way.

The school district and bus company expect us to sacrifice our children, even kindergarteners, to such a system.

Consulting the convoluted transportation division documentation, re-spouted out by the school district, yields the following brilliance per the state Department of Education, office of Legal & Governmental Affairs:
The more students are in a particular area, the closer together the stops will be in order to prevent large numbers of students from waiting on one corner. Students can walk up to the same mileage to a bus stop as to school--Elementary including kindergarten, up to 1 mile, Middle school students up to 1&1/2 miles, High school students up to 2 miles. Children in town who are not eligible for bus transportation must walk up to one mile to the elementary schools, one and one-half miles to the middle schools, and two miles to the high schools per the *** State Department of Education, office of Legal & Governmental Affairs.
So what this means is: there is no point in having buses at all, since both "eligible" and "ineligible" students may be required to walk as far to the bus as they would have to walk to school. Shades of "Catch-22." So all students might as well just walk to school, since they "may be required to walk" that far anyway. I also like the inconsistent capitalization and numbering in this governmental text, but again I digress. My point is:

Finally it dawns on me: Instead of choosing a different day, I just should have done my errands and forgotten about short Wednesday.

Where is our tax money going? And why does the town continue to contract with this bus company, when all they do is screw up?*

*I want to blatantly express my appreciation for the bus drivers. It is almost always not their fault that transport gets way out of whack. The chaos factor works against them, and I'm sure they're caught in the middle among dealing with the cacophany of ill-behaved children on the buses, their employers' policies, the district's guidelines and expectations, and myriad nutcase parents. In my book, they get kudos.


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