Jasmine Lewis is a 6th grader at Southwest Middle School.
“I like social studies and science and writing paragraphs, I’m writing a story… it’s called the girl who wanted a heart,” she said.
Every morning at 6:40 a.m., she heads out to her school bus stop on Apache and Shawnee Street with her mom to catch the bus at 6:52 a.m.
January 4th was the first day back to school after winter break, and at 6:58 a.m. the bus still hadn’t shown up.
So they called.
“We were holding on on the phone and I think we were holding on for about 20, 30 minutes when somebody finally answers the phone and we ask them has 115, has it come to pick all the students,” Jasmine’s mother, Angela Wilson-Lewis, said, “She said the bus driver didn’t come to work. So I asked I said were you gonna tell me? Was anybody gonna call me or say something? Are we just supposed to stand here? Is there gonna be another bus coming?”
Lewis said the dispatcher told her that they were trying to find someone else to pick up their driver’s route. So Lewis gave the dispatcher her number so they could call and tell her when to walk her daughter back to the bus stop.
They wait until 8:15 a.m. and then call back. A different dispatcher tells them that the bus has already gone by and dropped all the kids off at school.
Lewis responded, “Were you gonna tell us? Somebody was supposed to call us.” But the dispatcher didn’t know who she had spoken to, and said they would try to get someone out to pick her daughter up.
“I said okay can we leave the number? ‘Sure.’ And of course, my daughters still here. Nobody has picked her up.”
That was at noon.
Lewis doesn’t have a car and what takes the bus 15 minutes, would take her and her daughter two hours by foot.
In past years, there have been numerous complaints about Savannah Chatham County School buses and the school system attempted to make changes last year by taking over the transportation department and hiring their own bus drivers instead of contracting another company. While there have been improvements, for some parents, today was not an encouraging look for 2017.
Lewis moved to Savannah from Atlanta at the end of October and she said this has been happening since day one.
“It’s either they’re late picking her up ‘cause the bus driver didn’t show up or bus driver is sick, the bus driver doesn’t know the route,” Lewis says. “She’s missing school… It breaks my heart cause ya know, we’ve had some problems with her learning disabilities and I don’t want her to fall behind.”
Sheila Blanco with the Savannah Chatham County Public School System said the bus driver assigned to Lewis’ route had actually been out for much of November, a few days in December and January 4th.
“This is a problem that is nationwide, there is just a bus driver shortage out there,”, said Blanco. “They’re making all kinds of recruiting efforts right down to offering bonus incentives to anyone who makes a recommendation of someone gets hired.”
Blanco said at the beginning of the school year they were down 30 bus drivers, and now they are only down 3.
“We don’t have a bench so when you run into a situation where a driver’s out ill or a driver’s out on vacation, you run into a situation with a driver having to run two routes and that does cause the bus to be late,” she said.
But they’re working on it.
They’ve started a driver training program, “where we are taking folks who don’t have their commercial trading in driver’s license and allowing them to go through the training as they ride a bus with another driver and be able to get that CVL license.”
In the meantime, if you are a parent who has had similar issues with your child’s bus transportation, there is something you can do.
Blanco said parents are supposed to receive a phone notification when their child’s bus is going to be more than 15 minutes late. If you are not receiving this message you can call the transportation dispatcher and make sure that they have your correct information.
There number is: 912-395-5591
You can also ask for the senior director of transportation, Kathy Benson.
If you still don’t see results, you can contact the Deputy Superintendent and Chief Operations Officer, Vanessa Miller-Kaigler at 912395-3000.