NBC

Thousands Angered by DISD Bus Service

One parent: "This is ridiculous"

There they stood on a street corner in North Dallas, Jennifer Burks, her 13-year-old son Preston and a handful of his classmates, all clutching their backpacks as they waited for the school bus.

And waited… and waited…

"You know, you don't want to just leave them here, because if they are left here and the bus doesn't come, whose responsibility is that?" Burks said.

Still waiting.

But this was a good day, comparatively. The bus finally came, less than 30 minutes late, allowing Burks to go to work, rather than piling the kids into her big SUV to take them to their magnet school.

It was not an isolated incident.

Since the beginning of the school year, thousands of parents have complained to the Dallas Independent School District about late school buses, dropped bus routes and, among other things, a customer service system that fails to respond when a parent's child can't get to school.

Welcome to DISD's first year as manager of the district's massive bus system, inherited from Dallas County Schools, a busing agency that collapsed last year under the weight of mounting corruption scandals that will send several people to federal prison.

One of those who pushed for the closing of DCS was Michael Hinojosa, DISD's superintendent, who said back then "we don't want to be in the bus business."

But, if forced to do so, Hinojosa promised the buses would operate more efficiently than under DCS' control.

However, NBC 5 Investigates has learned that on just the first day of the school year, the district received about 5,000 complaints about late buses -- or no bus at all.

Those complaints include:

  • "80 students waiting at E.D. Walker Middle School."
  • "Parent wants to know if special ed student will be picked up."
  • "Bus hasn't (shown) up and kids are walking to school."
  • "Student has been arriving up to an hour late everyday."

DISD phone records show the district has been so overwhelmed with calls, as many as 80 percent of them were marked "abandoned" in some areas of the city, meaning they were never answered.

"It's aggravating that I call and no one answers or picks up," said parent Lori Riley, who said her son's bus ride to school sometimes takes almost two hours.

"This is ridiculous," added Kathy Brown, frustrated that her daughter often misses the first 30 minutes of class because of late buses.

Part of the problem, NBC 5 Investigates has learned, is that an average of 85 bus drivers -- or 10 percent of the workforce -- call in sick each day.

Adding to the breakdown, some of those drivers are scheduled to drive two routes each morning because the district is so short on drivers to begin with.

"I was very vocal during the process," Hinojosa said of his support to close down DCS, "so I have very little patience for us not delivering on the promise."

He said that, as superintendent, he takes responsibility for the district operating its bus service on the "old DCS playbook," a mistake he said he now recognizes.

To underscore that point, Hinojosa recently fired six transportation managers, all of whom came over from Dallas County Schools.

Now, DISD has made "progress" in correcting the bus route problems, with complaints dropping on average from the thousands to the hundreds each day, "but it's not good enough." Hinojosa said.

And, like he did before the closing of DCS last year, Hinojosa expressed optimism for a brighter future for school busing in Dallas, saying: "I think… in six months, we will be in much better shape."

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