Broward school bus driver shortage was foreseen

Local 10's Bob Norman reports

Author: Bob Norman, Reporter, bnorman@Local10.com
Published On: Sep 04 2012 10:54:34 AM EDT   Updated On: Sep 05 2012 11:20:40 AM EDT
Bus image

It was as if Broward School Board Chairwoman Ann Murray had a crystal ball.

"Let me talk about bus drivers and not having enough," she said. "... Believe me, when you have kids sitting on the side of the road, people are going to say, 'Why wasn’t that bus on the road? Why was my child left?'"

Murray issued that warning on June 12, two months before this school year began and a bus crisis left countless students standing on the road and adversely affected thousands of families.

A former school bus driver herself, Murray issued the warning directly to Chester Tindall, the board's new transportation director, at a board workshop. Tindall was at the meeting to brief the board on his plan to cut $14 million out of the transportation budget by consolidating bus lots, cutting overtime, and "optimizing routes."

Murray seemed to realize that Tindall -- who was brought down from Chicago by Supt. Robert Runcie to overhaul the department -- might be going too fast too soon.

"It's kind of a different picture out on the street," she told Tindall. "I'm trying to help you, Mr. Tindall. You can't squeeze it anymore than you've squeezed it."

"Right, I believe the numbers are just the numbers we need," Tindall answered her. "We are at an at-need number. We are there. And if we reduce anymore we will not operate very well in September."

Nobody knew at the time the scope of the debacle that was to come, a mess that some board members say is the biggest operational crisis they've ever seen not only in Broward, but across South Florida.

Tindall at the time appeared to be worried about one major issue. The district needed to hire 93 new bus drivers to be ready for the school year. And he was having a hard time getting that done. 

"The application process is going slower than I would like," he told Murray at the meeting.

When the school year began, those bus drivers weren't ready for the road -- and the bus driver shortage has been cited by Runcie as one of the chief reasons for the mess. The district is still scrambling to fill those slots and get the crisis under control.

There are other causes for the mess that has led to thousands of complaints: Dry runs for bus routes weren't done on time, Tindall's new bus routing system proved chaotic, and new software appears to have added to the confusion.

Yet Runcie and Tindall have used the Sun-Sentinel newspaper to blame bus drivers for the mess. It's a tactic that has further frustrated several board members, including Robin Bartleman, who on Friday demanded that the superintendent spend his time fixing the problem rather than making excuses in the media.