The first order of business for Sarah Weis, the Lawrence School District’s newly contracted private-school liaison, was to respond to some 1,200 phone messages left by irate parents about busing problems they and their children encountered as a new school year began in the Five Towns.
Weis, a Woodmere resident who has run her own business, said she drew from her customer service experience in returning the parents’ calls, which began on Aug. 30. A few of the messages she didn’t have to return were her own, left with the district before she was hired. “I was one of those parents at the other end of the machine,” said Weis, who began her new job on Sept. 11.
“My first task was dealing with transportation,” she added. “I called everyone back. Many said, ‘Thank you so much,’ as I sympathized with them.”
The problems that Weis and the district’s Transportation Department dealt with ranged from a child’s name being misspelled on a bus card to routes being too long. The district currently buses 4,500 private-school students who attend 70 schools on 170 different routes, according to Superintendent Gary Schall.
“We are unique in that only one other school district transports students to as many different schools as Lawrence,” Schall said, referring to the East Ramapo School District in Spring Valley. “The challenge that we have is to make sure that we are doing it by the book.”
The most common complaint as the school year began was that the bus routes were too long, especially for pre-kindergarten children who were riding on buses for the first time. “My daughter was on the bus for 90 minutes, and it’s a 12- to 15-minute drive to the school she attends,” said Weis, who was initially hired as a consultant for six weeks and paid $7,500 for 30 days of work.
Michael Fabrizio, vice president of the Inwood-based Independent Coach Corp., which provides buses to the Lawrence district, said that September is “always a little confusing,” and that adding nearly 300 pre-K children as passengers compounded the confusion.
“At each stop, parents want to take photos and get to know the bus driver,” Fabrizio said. “With 25 to 30 stops, add two minutes [to] each stop. We’re working with the school district to keep costs at a minimum and revamp the runs that don’t work to make them work.”
The district budgeted $9.3 million for transportation for the school year. In 2011-12 the total was $8.9 million, and in 2010-11 it was $8.8 million.
The district and Independent Coach set a deadline of Oct. 10, after the Jewish holidays end, to finalize the routes. “We figured to take two or three weeks for a review,” Fabrizio said. “A lot of the routes are working, and we’re adding vans to respond to the complaints about distance.”
As problems are solved and the number of complaints declines — Weis said it has decreased significantly — her position will expand to not only handling transportation problems but interacting with the private schools as part of a parent advisory council and serving as a district administrative assistant, Schall said. “We were so pleased with her work that we are in the process of contracting now through Civil Service,” he said. “Salary is in the process of being determined, contingent on Civil Service procedures being followed.”
“Not every call was an emergency, but I could help, and it was very personal,” said Weis, who can be reached at (516) 295-7095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.