Big Buses, Bigger Problems: DCS Buses So Late, Some Dallas Kids Miss Breakfast

Three months into school year DCS still needs to hire 154 drivers

Parents in Dallas and some local suburbs are fed up with Dallas County Schools buses running late or not showing up at all. An NBC 5 investigation found the problems are bigger than just students missing class.

Some parents in Dallas say kids are also missing what’s often called the most important meal of the day, because DCS can’t keep the buses running on time.

“If you want to eat breakfast, you gotta be there at 8:30,” said Dallas ISD parent Rebecca Jewett.

Jewett says her teenage daughter’s bus is severely late at least a couple of times a month. It’s unacceptable, she says, especially in a district where late buses affect many students who rely on the free school breakfast program to eat in the morning.

“So then they have to wait ‘til lunch. I know how it is in the morning on an empty stomach trying to study. You can't do it,” said Jewett.

NBC 5 Investigates has obtained records showing similar complaints of late buses and no-show buses from other parents who phoned in to DCS.

DCS operates school buses at Aledo ISD, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, Cedar Hill ISD, Coppell ISD, DeSoto ISD, Dallas ISD, Highland Park ISD, Irving ISD, Lancaster ISD, Richardson ISD, Weatherford ISD and White Settlement ISD.

In the records, one parent complains, “Children don’t eat breakfast and are always late to school, getting counted tardy/absent.”

Another complaint says, “[the] bus is always late. The caller’s son is missing breakfast because of this. The caller says that some days the bus doesn’t even arrive.”

“Without bus transportation we can’t get our child there and get to work on time,” says Dallas ISD parent Jennifer Davis-Lamm.

Davis-Lamm says her daughter’s bus never showed up at all two days in a row last month. Her daughter attends a Dallas ISD school of choice, which is across town from where they live. They rely on the bus to pick her up, and if it doesn’t show, it also makes Davis-Lamm late to work.

“We called the dispatch center and they told us that no driver had been assigned to the route.

When we expressed dismay at that and told them that was unacceptable, they hung up on us and blocked our calls,” said Davis-Lamm.

Davis-Lamm says a DCS supervisor eventually called back, but DCS still has offered no real apology or promise to fix things.

She says parents at their school have had it.

“They feel like this is an agency we can't really trust going forward and this is an agency that isn't really interested in communicating with us,” said Davis-Lamm.

Three months into the school year, NBC 5 Investigates has learned DCS hasn’t hired enough drivers to staff their routes.

In a statement Wednesday, DCS said, “101 regular route drivers and 53 full-time substitute drivers are needed across all DCS locations.”

DCS says “…across the nation there are school bus driver shortages…” right now, and the agency is having difficultly hiring because unemployment is low.

But parents can’t believe DCS would start the year so understaffed.

“Some of the kids are missing their entire first period of class,” said Coppell ISD parent Todd Dillenbeck.

Dillenbeck says after weeks of frustration his family has finally given up.

“His mom takes him to school now. We’re not relying on the bus anymore,” said Dillenbeck.

Back in Dallas, Rebecca Jewett is also considering pulling her daughter off the bus to make sure she gets breakfast.

“If it continues I'm just going to have to start using my own gas and taking my daughter to school myself,” said Jewett.

In a statement Wednesday, DCS said it apologizes for the delays some families are experiencing and is working hard to remedy the situation.

The records obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show about 200 complaints about “late” or “no-show” buses in less than two years, but that’s just the complaints that were actually phoned in to DCS. Dallas ISD officials have suggested to NBC 5 that they receive more complaints about DCS, complaints called into schools directly. NBC 5 Investigates has requested copies of those records but has not received them yet.

Late Wednesday, DCS released data showing its buses were on time 89 percent of the time over the last month, but that data only includes the half of the buses in the fleet that are equipped with a new GPS system, so it’s not complete information.

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