Are the Number of Students in the ERCSD Overwhelming the Busing System?

Are the Number of Students in the ERCSD Overwhelming the Busing System?

By M.C. Millman

This year, not only has the number of yeshiva students requiring busing increased, but due to the ongoing open border crisis, 550 unexpected and last-minute new students have been added to the 10,000 public school students in the East Ramapo Central School District (ERCSD). 

The ERCSD has a transportation budget of sixty million dollars, a sum larger than most school districts' total budgets, with over 10,000 students in public schools plus 30,000 students in private schools. With such large numbers in play and with so many schools experiencing busing issues, many believe it is high time to revisit the system of operations. 

"We're the second largest transportation system behind New York City," Harry Grossman*, ERCSD board member, shares with Rockland Daily. "It's 2022, and we're still using paper forms!"

And it's those paper forms that many school administrators feel are the cause of endless headaches for local yeshivas, especially this year.  Pleas for help from parents who submitted busing requests on time but did not get bus passes have skyrocketed according to Rabbi Hersh Horowitz, Executive Director of COC, who works round the clock to assist local mosdos and parents in any way possible.

The only change local mosdos are reporting when it comes to the required transportation paperwork of 40,000 students over the past few years is that much of the work has been relegated to the schools who are given no choice other than to comply or face having no busing for their parent body. 

"Why are we doing their work?" asks Bas Mikroh's office manager. "This all started about three years ago when ERCSD started requiring that each school mail out the transportation forms to our parents. It makes no sense that we are suddenly required to do all this work for the Department of Transportation, wasting hours and hours of our school's secretaries' time at tremendous cost to us."

"The papers have to stop," says Grossman. "Understand the transportation staff are truly committed and dedicated. They are just so overwhelmed by the volume. We need to make everything easier to manage. It will be much more efficient to require that every parent submit their busing request electronically, so they'll know they're in the system. Make a simple update button at the end of the year when 90% of students have no change from year to year and allow every parent to log in to check on their child's bus information or reprint a missing bus pass. Kiosks can be set up at schools and in the district office to help those who don't have computers or who want to log in to check their child's bus pass. Accepting paper applications makes no sense when the number of students is increasing exponentially."

And the system to submit a transportation request is already in place on the ERCSD website. So why are papers still being used? Why are schools still required to mail them to their parents? And why are papers getting lost when an electronic submission system is available? 

Another issue multiple schools reported that also began about three years ago was the institution of the package numbers for buses. 

"Ever since they started with the package numbers, things have gotten more and more complicated," says one school administrator who echoed the many Rockland Daily spoke with, none of whom were clear on what exactly the package numbers represent. "There used to be bus routes. At the beginning of the year, we would match students to the bus route on his bus pass. Then suddenly, with no explanation or guidance, the Department of Transportation insisted they couldn't share routing numbers, only package numbers. Now, it’s the school's job to figure out which package number matches which route and then to match that to each student. It takes hours! Sometimes we ask the bus drivers which route they are on to help solve the puzzle. Only some drivers knew their route, but every little bit helps. Why can’t they give us the routes like they used to? Why make things harder instead of easier?"

"An electronic system would solve the package/routing number situation," says Grossman. "All a parent would have to do is log onto their child's account, and the school would also have access and not have to play a matching game."

"We weren't required to save proof of busing requests," another yeshiva staff member vents her frustration. "And while we did scan some paper and had that as proof of timely submission, for others, that wasn't possible."

After two years of forgiving of the April 1 application submission deadline due to COVID, this year, the DOT enforced the deadline, as per New York State law. This surprised some parents and caused issues for others who insist they sent in applications on time. This includes many families with more than one child who were told they forgot to register a child. 

"The only suggestion is to go to the DOT in person." the staff member continues. "Then they are told that maybe in two weeks, their child might receive busing, but only if they can be added into an existing route. Those parents didn't miss the deadline. The DOT lost their papers! Last spring, I was able to get some students reinstated. But as of July, there has been zero communication. They don't respond to emails or answer calls."

One technological advancement that was introduced last year is the Verstrans MyStop app. Helpful to parents for tracking buses, the app can only be as good as the latest information it is uploaded with. 

"Anytime I look at the app in hopes that today maybe it will work," a yeshiva parent shares with Rockland Daily, "all it shows is the green line of my children's bus route. It didn't work last year, and it doesn't work this year. It never shows me where their bus is, when it is coming, or what stop it's up to. It's completely worthless. I don't need to see the route – I need to know where my kids are!"

At last night's ERCSD Public Hearing and Board Meeting, Grossman asked about reports of MyStop not working. Janette Silva, Director of Transportation, replies that the app has never worked. Last year's highly touted, brand-new app hasn't been updated with routes. This is despite the fact that a few hours of updating would cut down on countless phone calls from frantic parents calling for bus information. Silva states that in order for MyStop to function, it would require daily input as buses roll out of the parking lot, and no one has been assigned to do that for the past two years.  

"Shouldn't we at least inform the parents what's going on to ease tension?" Sherry McGill asked. 

Silva agreed and shared that October will be the earliest for updating MyStop. Her first priority is fixing all the routes. But with the additional announcement last night of the ERCSD's forty-million-dollar deficit, due in part to the 550 new public school students who come with a price of $31,421 each or over $17 million per year, cuts to programs will be required. Updating the MyStop app, which comes with its own hefty annual contract, despite the fact that it has been useless for the past two years, will not be a priority. 

"I'd like to see a help desk ticketing system," Grossman suggests, "to get rid of email and phone calls. It establishes SLAs and metrics and frees up phone lines for schools. Multiple tickets could be dealt with at once. If there's a real emergency, like a missing student – that's a time for phone calls. Otherwise, communication with ERCSD's DOT is done through the ticketing system, which would document as a single thread all communication regarding an issue. Tickets could be generated by sending an email to a central address, via a portal, via app, or even a text message - all would generate trackable tickets. A separate need is for the district to be able to quickly notify all parents of children on a bus route. There are programs for this. I would suggest text messaging as not everyone has a smartphone and email available. All of this is predicated on having good, clean data as to which children are on which bus routes and having parents' cell phone numbers. There is no reason such a system hasn't been put into place. We must become more technologically efficient in dealing with transportation. It's the only way we can successfully deal with 40,000 students." 

Rockland Daily reached out to ERCSD about the issues parents have reported after registering for busing and being told their children are not registered. The Superintendent chose not to make a statement. Rockland Daily asked the ERCSD why they are still using paper forms and not requiring online submissions when the e-form is already available on the ERCSD website. There was no reply from the school district.

*Harry Grossman's comments are solely his opinion and do not represent the opinion of the board or the district.

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