Reporting John Lauritsen
ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – The first day of school is always hectic for students, but it became hectic in St. Paul for parents, too.
Dozens of bus routes were 20 minutes late or more in the morning and then again later in the afternoon.
In a few cases, buses were 2 1/2 hours late and about 10 routes missed students altogether.
Cathy Eberhart was excited to see her daughter get home from her first day of fifth grade.
But instead of getting dropped off in the afternoon, it was almost dinner time before Eberhart’s daughter got off the bus.
“I expect some mix-ups the first day,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on that didn’t get figured out ahead of time.”
St. Paul Schools hired a new bus company this year — Minnesota Central School Bus Company, which is based in Illinois. Minneapolis has used Minnesota Central, but St. Paul never has.
New drivers were learning new routes just days before the first day of school.
“We are sorry for the worry we have caused our families,” said Michael Baumann of St. Paul Schools.
Baumann is in charge of transportation for the district. He said last year, during the first day of classes, 15 routes were 20 minutes or later in picking up kids from home. This year, that number more than doubled to 36 late routes. It was nearly as bad in the afternoon.
The delays affected about 20 St. Paul schools and thousands of students.
“Our estimate is that about 3,400 students in our district were impacted by this problem yesterday,” Baumann said.
The district said that through their contract with Minnesota Central, they could actually fine the company. Tardy drivers make for tardy students.
“We have to get our kids to class on time so they can get the education they need,” Baumann said. “That’s the focus.”
St. Paul Schools sent out an apology phone message to parents and families for the late pick-ups and drop-offs.
David Peterson, regional director for Minnesota Central, said his company was just awarded this contract 30 days ago. Peterson said contracts are typically awarded in the spring.
He said some of their drivers didn’t get their routes until just a few days ago and they usually like to do dry runs two weeks before school starts.
Peterson said he’s confident this is getting fixed.