School bus mess has led to more than 6,200 complaints

Published On: Sep 01 2012 10:01:30 AM EDT   Updated On: Sep 01 2012 10:06:00 AM EDT

The central bus depot received an incredible 14,099 calls during the Broward school bus debacle -- and that was just for four days of the mess, which continues two weeks into the school year.

Through Wednesday of last week, a total of 6,227 complaints -- or "issues" as the administration calls them -- had been filed by parents affected in the school bus routing mess that has left students and parents without buses across the county.

That's according to an email released to a School Board Robin Bartleman from Superintendent Robert Runcie's administration on Friday. Bartleman said the school bus fiasco is the worst problem she's seen in her eight years on the board.

"The numbers are horrible," said Bartleman. "The situation is horrible ... it's systemic."

Bartleman asked Runcie for hard data on the problem back on Monday and wasn't pleased with it. She wanted numbers on issues that had been resolved and the number of children who had gone without buses, but Runcie's top lieutenant, Maurice Woods, told her he doesn't have that information yet. Many school board members have criticized Runcie and his administration for failing to inform the board and the public on the scope for the problem and why it happened in the first place.

"Communication has been terrible from the beginning," Board Member Laurie Levinson complained to Runcie at a Tuesday meeting.

Runcie and his controversial hand-picked transportation director, Chester Tindall, have been overhauling the transportation department for months in an effort to cut costs and make bus routing more efficient. But those changes have led to chaos in bus routing that has led to many of the problems. In addition to that, Tindall was somehow short as many as 100 bus drivers when the school year began and new software has also added to the troubles.

While the mess continues, the numbers released by the administration do indicate things are slowly improving. During the first week of school, more than 1,000 "issues" a day were logged. This past week, that average had gone down to about 500 a day.

"It's a huge problem and it's a systemic problem," said Bartleman.

Adding to several board members' anger has been Runcie's use of the Sun-Sentinel to put out stories, as yet unsupported by factual information, aiming the blame at "sabotage" by transportation department staff. Tindall also used the paper to claim he was afraid for his life. Bartleman on Friday blasted Runcie for playing the "blame" game in the press.

"Taxpayers pay for results, not excuses," said Bartleman of Runcie's recent headlines. "I don't care, parents don't care, they want to get their children here safely.  ... The only thing I can do is hold Mr. Runcie and Chester Tindall accountable and I'm planning on doing that."