North Reading Transportation’s John McCarthy faced Haverhill families and members of the School Committee Thursday night, owning up to a communication breakdown that resulted in students missing school and left parents fearing for their safety.
During a three-hour meeting that catered to an overflow crowd listening in both English and Spanish in the City Hall auditorium, the CEO heard from more than a dozen concerned citizens about how this week’s bus delays impacted them.
A similar refrain rang true: Safety is paramount for Haverhill parents. Several, including a school nurse and crossing guard, spoke about how children had to walk as many as two miles to catch the bus. Some went so far to say that traveling busy city stretches of Route 97, River or Main Streets, for example, were akin to having a death wish.
Others, like Steve Costa, who has a seven-year-old daughter at Bradford’s Hunking School, got up and pointed fingers at the administration while venting their frustration. “I know we have a shortage of staff in some areas of the administration, but the wheel wasn’t broken,” Costa said. “This all falls on the administration. I’m sick and tired of the excuses: Do your job that we pay you to do.”
Indeed, Superintendent Margaret Marotta shouldered blame on behalf of the school department, admitting that the district only became aware of route changes made by NRT’s computer software Transfider Friday, Aug. 23 and “drastically underestimated” the impact those changes would have on families.
School Committee member Richard J. Rosa hit a nerve when touching on the district’s new “rightsizing” plan that shuffled students around the city’s schools in an effort to alleviate overcrowding. In the process, admitted NRT, a “capacity issue” resulted.
However, Rosa reasoned that the city shouldn’t just place blame.“The fact of the matter is, we’re improving things and because of those improvements, we’ve come up with some glitches in transportation which we’ll fix and everything will be fine,” he said.
As Rosa and his colleagues vowed to review the city’s rider eligibility policy, NRT’s McCarthy issued a mea culpa with the promise to improve commutes as soon as possible.
“I recognize and apologize for the short notice on my end. Maybe we should have bought the company in November,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know if that would have been any better or not, but we did what we did, we’re here now and we’re going to resolve this.”
To that end, he told WHAV after the meeting he plans to have two additional bus runs take place at Haverhill High School starting on Tuesday, Sept. 3 in the morning and afternoon. He’s also open to incorporating more physical buses to the mix. All NRT buses will be outfitted with the Synovia GPS tracker and perhaps the “Here Comes the Bus” companion app, McCarthy said.