At last Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting, two parents and a grandparent asked the Board to consider their request for a change in bus stop location during both public sessions. This request led to a very distressing exchange between concerned BOE members and the Superintendent and his Business Manager.
The stop in question is at the intersection of Prout Hill Road and Crystal Lake Road. According to the joint complaint, the road is very narrow at that intersection and there are no sidewalks for the 6-8 children to stand on. Additionally, the homeowner at that intersection has requested that children not stand on her property while waiting for the bus (see here for that request to the BOE and Mayor) because she doesn't want to be responsible for any accident that might happen. The proposed parent solution is to move the stop to the intersection of Crystal Lake Rd. and Trailside Crossing: the street is wider and there are sidewalks for the kids to stand on.
The group request to the Superintendent's office, dated September 7th and signed by 9 different families, followed an August 31st certified letter from Board of Education Write-in Candidate Mark Loomis (grandparent to 5 children using the bus stop, 4 of which live with him). On September 9th, Business Manager Nancy Haynes wrote back to Loomis, thanking him for notifying the BOE of the concerns and telling him she would "review the bus stop against the Board of Education's transportation policy."
On Monday, September 21st, Sgt. Scott Aresco, the Traffic Unit Supervisor for the Middletown Police department, sent an email of his findings to Police Chief Patrick McMahon. The email reads as follows:
The Traffic Unit has reviewed the bus stop at Prout Hill Road and Crystal Lake Road, and has the following concerns and recommendations.
- The current bus stop has no sidewalks where the children can wait for the school bus.
- Currently, the children stand in the front lawn of 182 Prout Hill Road; however, the resident has requested that the children not stand on her property waiting for the school bus. This is the only location at that corner where children can stand without being in the roadway. This becomes an issue especially in the winter with the snow/etc.
Our recommendation is that the bus stop be moved to the corner of Trailside Crossing and Crystal Lake Road. Children waiting for the bus will be off the roadway, as there are sidewalks on Trailside Crossing. Additionally, there is enough room in the cul-de-sac of Trailside Crossing for a bus to turn around.
Should you have any question and or concerns please feel free to contact me.
Sgt. Scott Aresco
On October 5th, Mark Loomis sent a second certified letter to the Superintendent, with the return receipt showing the letter was picked up on October 7th. This letter referenced the first request, cited Nancy Haynes' promise to look into the matter, and included the text of Sgt. Aresco's findings. Loomis received no reply to his letter. On Tuesday, October 11 (the same day as the BOE meeting), Mr. Loomis called the Board of Ed to see where his request was. He was told by Nancy Haynes that she was waiting for a road report that was being prepared by the safety department at DATTCO, and that she would contact him when the report was done.
According to his comments via email to this EYE reporter, Mr. Loomis couldn't understand what would take over a month for DATTCO to report on, so he called DATTCO to find out for himself:
I called them to ask; 1) when was the report requested, and 2) when could the Board expect to receive the report. At Dattco, I spoke to Ms. BillieJo Richardi of the Safety Dept. She told me that any request for a report such as described by Ms. Haynes would have to cross her desk, and that her department was not in receipt of any such request. She sounded a bit dismayed that she was just now hearing that there was a concern, and promised me that she would get back to me tomorrow, (Wednesday), it being almost the close of business on Tuesday.
Back to the BOE Meeting:
Mr. Loomis, Mr. Byrd and Mr. Latina all told the board various parts of this story during the first public session story, and all asked why there was no resolution to their case. BOE Chairman Ted Raczka responded that it wasn't a Q&A time and that the Board couldn't respond to direct questions. However, once the public session ended, BOE member Sheila Daniels asked where this case was and why it wasn't getting resolved. Here's where it got interesting...
Both the Superintendent and the Business Manager replied that they had received no written request for a transportation hearing to address this particular bus stop issue: "I haven't talked to anyone about this," said Michael Frechette. "No one has asked me for a hearing, " commented Nancy Haynes a moment later. BOE member Sheila Daniels then asked if any of the parents were even told that they needed to do such a thing, and there was no real answer to her question. BOE Member Corinne Gill added, "Protocol is that they're informed they have the right to submit a request for a hearing." BOE Member Ryan Kennedy commented that there was a transportation committee meeting the very next morning (Wednesday, October 13), but that he hadn't heard about this case. After several minutes of discussion about who didn't talk to whom, Chairman Ted Raczka said, "If an email request cc'ing the Chairman was sent, a hearing would be scheduled as soon as practical."
During the second public session, Parent Craig Byrd returned to the podium to tell the board that he had never, in all his interaction with the Superintendent's Office, been told he could submit a written request for a hearing.
After the meeting concluded, this EYE reporter asked Transportation Director Mike Milardo for additional information on this bus stop issue. Milardo commented that he had spoken to Mrs. Byrd and that she didn't like his initial decision about not changing the bus stop. Apparently, the proposed alternate stop (Trailside Crossing/Crystal Lake Rd) has not been approved for a bus turn (but it has been approved for fire truck access), so Milardo denied the change on that basis. Mrs. Byrd was not happy with that decision, so she was able to appeal to Milardo's supervisor, Business Manager Nancy Haynes, and Milardo then was no longer in the decision-making process.
Immediately following the interview with Mike Milardo, this reporter was able to interview Business Manager Nancy Haynes about her interactions with the multiple families involved in this bus stop dispute. Haynes said that since Mark Loomis was not a parent of children at the bus stop, he had no standing in the case, and so his efforts to get the bus stop changed were pointless. She also claimed that "someone" had talked to DATTCO that day about the safety report that was necessary before a decision could be made. When asked if Mrs. Byrd was ever told that she had to request a hearing specifically, Haynes replied, "She's an employee of this district and she should know what the procedure is." (Author's note - Mrs. Byrd works at Woodrow Wilson Middle School.)
One Week Later:
One week has passed since the "Bus Stop Saga" was brought to the attention of the Board of Education. This EYE Reporter had to fly to AZ over the weekend, and was unable to finish the story before now. On a whim this morning, I emailed Mark Loomis (the Grandparent without standing and BOE write-in candidate) to ask for an update before I published, and the only change in the storyline was a visit by the Superintendent, who had to wait for another car to turn off Crystal Lake Rd. before he could make his own turn in. Based on that experience, according to what Mark Loomis emailed back, the Superintendent said it's not safe for a bus to turn onto Crystal Lake Rd. (remember that kids stand at this intersection currently, and the proposed change is to have the bus turn on Crystal Lake to pick up at Trailside Crossing). Loomis then commented,
Now I ask you, what sense does that make? It's too unsafe for a bus to make the turn, so we'll solve that by having kids wait in the road there? Is this some kind of joke? Dr. Frechette has zero expertise that qualifies him to make this call. The board should show some respect for the judgement of the traffic supervisor -Sgt. Aresco.
Loomis did not say that a hearing has been scheduled, and I'm in possession of the email sent last Tuesday night, October 11th, to the BOE Chairman and others that requested a transportation hearing.
When I initially started following this story a week ago, it sort of sounded like someone just didn't follow through someplace and this complaint got left behind. However, the more questions I ask, the more I don't like what I get in response. It either is or isn't policy to tell a parent what their options are if they want to challenge an administrative decision. It shouldn't matter who the parent it, and it certainly shouldn't matter if the primary caregiver happens to be a grandparent. I would also think that the arrival of more than one certified letter on a subject would finally trigger SOMEONE in the Superintendent's Office to ask if a hearing had been scheduled or if the parties involved even knew that was an option. Furthermore, Nancy Haynes asked for 116.75 hours of overtime for the business office for September (due to the payroll supervisor position not being filled), and that's an additional 20+ hours per week of extra work for someone or someones. That (supposedly) means people are there working, so it's kind of hard to understand how something could get dropped this bad for this long.
So, besides a conclusion of incompetence, which I'll hold off on for now, the only other possible choice has some connection to the fact that Mark Loomis is a candidate for the BOE. Surely this isn't the case, and surely this isn't what happens in Middletown...