Updated: School Supt. ‘Disappointed’ by Bus Snafus; Otherwise, Haverhill Schools’ Enjoy ‘Smooth Opening’

Haverhill school bus. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Editor’s Clarification: An earlier headline and lead paragraph failed to fully convey school Superintendent Margaret Marotta shares parents’ concerns over first day bus delays and confusion. In an email to administrators and School Committee members, Marotta concluded, “I am disappointed, as I am sure you are, that these bussing issues marred what was in many ways a smooth opening of school.” Unfortunately, the latter statement wasn’t released to the media until early evening.

Haverhill Public Schools Superintendent Margaret Marotta is considering Tuesday’s first day back to class a “smooth opening,” despite bus delays that parents also called a “disaster” and “complete failure.”

At issue ahead of the Aug. 27 opening bell: New bus provider North Reading Transportation. As students should have been settling into their classrooms and meeting their teachers, many were still on city sidewalks waiting for pickups, parents tell WHAV. Several opted to drive their kids to school after waiting anywhere from 15-30 minutes.

Other families, including one on Keeley Street and another along the busy stretch of Route 110, worried about safety when students were left waiting. The father of a Nettle sixth grader who is typically picked up on busy Groveland Street tells WHAV his son was told he’d have to walk when no bus came to pick him up Tuesday morning.

Speaking to WHAV shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday, Marotta told WHAV she only knew of one elementary school bus that was nearly an hour late and was working with NRT to rectify the issue. She chalked the morning’s overall delays up to a bottleneck that started early in the day. As a result, some students were unable to take advantage of the district’s free breakfast offerings with their classmates, but were provided a la carte options once they arrived.

“There’s 33 buses and the buses run high school, middle school, elementary school, so there’s like 99 routes. That’s why an elementary school bus ran a little bit late, because somewhere along the way it had been planned wrong, I’m guessing. So that sort of backs itself up.”

The state’s largest transportation provider, NRT buses 110,000 students daily, Marotta said. Haverhill has 8,000 public school students.

All Haverhill students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade living one mile from school are eligible for bus transportation. Students in grades six through eight that live a mile-and-a-half from school can ride the bus, while high school students who reside at least two miles from school are eligible.

Marotta said the school department purchased the Transfinder bus routing software last year but failed to use it to its full potential until NRT came along. However, more needs to be done as the new company gets used to Haverhill, Marotta tells WHAV.

“I think what North Reading isn’t as familiar with is Haverhill. Those two things need to meet: The people who have the on-the-ground understanding of Haverhill and the computer system. I think that’s where some of the glitches come in.”

All in all, Marotta said Tuesday’s first day of school was not unlike years’ past.

“There’s glitches when you implement something new, but walking through schools I haven’t heard anything beyond what happens every year. I don’t know what that’s like from a parent’s perspective, but certainly from the teachers’ and principals’ perspectives, it’s been a pretty smooth opening.”

Parents who continue to experience transportation problems are encouraged to call NRT at 978-373-9891.

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