The Monroe County Community School Corporation says the corporate bus fleet it hired to handle some routes this year is breaching its contract. Michigan-based Auxilio Services has 30 days to address the problems.
MCCSC contracted with Auxilio Services back in March to provide both buses and drivers for 42 of the district’s 124 routes. Auxilio underbid another corporate fleet service, charging an average daily rate of $287.67 per-route per-day.
It was a controversial decision, with many parents expressing concerns about an outside company taking over routes historically staffed by local drivers.
[pullquote source=”Andrew Clampitt, MCCSC”]”Parents have been very vocal about it, as they should be. Safety is our number one concern in terms of transportation and we take it very seriously.”[/pullquote]
MCCSC Public Information Officer Andrew Clampitt says the district worked with Auxilio representatives “closely” all summer, meeting weekly via phone or in person.
“We were covered, we were ready to go,” Clampitt says.
Significant problems with busing at Muncie Community Schools, which also contracted with Auxilio for the first time this year, forced officials to close schools for two days. That prompted concerns for MCCSC’s first day soon after, but Clampitt assured the public the district expected no problems.
But the week before classes began, inspections determined most of Auxilio’s buses didn’t meet the school’s safety standards, which are stricter than state standards. For example, MCCSC requires buses have double stop arms, a safety gate that swings out in front of the bus when stopped, and radios that can be on the district’s frequency.
But the biggest problem came less than 12 hours before classes were set to begin on August 9.
“We didn’t find out until 11 p.m. on August 8, the night before school, that they only had 18 drivers,” Clampitt says. That left the district to staff the other 24 routes with drivers from the emergency substitute pool. But even that wasn’t enough, and many routes had to be doubled up.
“Come the first day of school that shortage caused some delays for us,” Clampitt says.
That wasn’t the only problem for the district: the “Here Comes the Bus” phone app and the text messaging system for delays and bus number changes also went down that first day. Some students got home 90 minutes later than they should have. MCCSC Superintendent Judith Demuth apologized for the issues in an email to parents.
Parents are frustrated, both with delays and with problems getting any answers from the district.
“Parents have been very vocal about it, as they should be,” Clampitt says. “I think the frustration there lies in actually reaching the transportation department, and that call volume has increased significantly, even more so than a traditional start of the school year.”
Clampitt says previously, only one phone line without a voicemail box was available at the transportation office. Now, he says they’ve added additional phone lines and staff members to answer calls.
“Each day as we get along here it improves,” he says. “We’re not there yet, we know that. The transportation department is working very diligently on being there, and being the best and the safest that we can be for our families and our students.”
Clampitt says they’ll accept nothing less from Auxilio than the full services promised in the contract. And if that doesn’t happen?
“How do we address that shortage? We make being an MCCSC bus driver as appealing as possible and we get that out in front of as many folks as we can to show them the benefits of being an MCCSC bus driver,” he says.
Auxilio Services did not respond to a request for comment.