Monday, when the school bus didn't show, Bethany-Anne Bouchard sent her daughter to Hartford Magnet Middle School in a cab.
On Tuesday, Bouchard didn't have the cash for a cab, so when the bus didn't come, her daughter stayed home.
On Wednesday, after her daughter got a ride to school, Bouchard was left wondering what would happen next.
"Hartford is very big on having perfect attendance and everyone in school," said Bouchard, whose 12-year-old daughter is in seventh grade. "How can these children be going to school if the buses aren't picking them up?"
Parents who send their children to Hartford schools have been grappling with late, missed or otherwise problematic buses since classes started Monday. District officials said 80 percent of the 12,000 students taking buses made it to school fine, but acknowledged that other students are facing some "serious snags."
Officials cited various reasons for the problems.
Bus drivers unfamiliar with their routes have resulted in slower drives to school. Communication problems left bus companies without accurate information about when a school's day ended, meaning no buses were available after dismissal. And because buses often serve one school after the next, delays on one route can snowball into bigger delays on later routes.
Hartford schools' spokeswoman Nancy Benben said the busing situation should be straightened out by the end of next week.
"We're working with a lot of moving parts and we're doing absolutely everything humanly possible to make sure their kids get to school on time and safely," Benben said. "We're hearing them and we're making changes."
Officials are meeting with Dattco and Logisticare, the companies the district contracts with, and making changes, she said. Both Logisticare and the school system have increased the number of people to answer phone calls about transportation, though Logisticare's phone number gave off a busy signal throughout the day Wednesday.
Officials are also considering adjusting school times to improve the bus system, Benben said.
Buses for magnet schools and special education students are run by Logisticare, while Dattco covers the rest of the district.
Dattco Chief Operating Officer Cliff Gibson said his company has picked up some magnet school bus routes at the district's request. Gibson said his company's routes have run smoothly.
A phone message left at Logisticare's national office was not returned Wednesday.
About 2,000 more students are taking the bus this year, largely because Hartford reduced the distance from school a student must live to qualify for a bus ride. Still, schools' spokesman David Medina said he believed the problems were fairly typical back-to-school issues, in line with openings in other years.
Some parents disagree.
"Of course the first day doesn't go smoothly," said Sarah Gilligan, a Windsor parent whose daughter attends seventh grade at Hartford Magnet Middle School. "This is so far beyond that."
Gilligan's daughter, Amy, gets to her bus stop at 6:15 a.m. but so far hasn't been picked up by a bus. After waiting an hour, she and other students have gotten rides from parents. She's had better luck getting bus rides home, though she arrived at least 45 minutes late, Gilligan said.
On Wednesday, Amy managed to get home before 4 p.m., but only because an intrepid parent of another student intervened: After getting out of work, the parent called her daughter on the bus, found out where the bus was, drove to the spot and picked both girls up there.
The district's bus contracts, which were awarded this year, require buses to have GPS, and Medina said the buses have them. But parents said drivers were using paper maps and having trouble finding their way.
Damalia Thomas said her 8-year-old daughter directed her bus driver through the North End of Hartford earlier this week.
Thomas' bus woes began Monday afternoon, when she got a call to pick up her daughter, Alexsis, at Montessori Magnet School because the buses hadn't come.
The next two days brought more bus problems: Alexsis didn't get home until 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday — school ends at 3 — and didn't get picked up at all Wednesday morning. Now Thomas plans to wait with her daughter until the bus shows up in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon, but she worries that it will be difficult to put in a full day of work.
"What am I supposed to tell my job?" she asked.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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