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N4T Investigators: School bus disgust

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TUCSON - "Every single day the buses are late. Every day," Rose Bennett told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Another parent, Camille Catsaros, said: "It's also a terrible inconvenience to parents who are trying to get to work in the morning."

We heard similar comments from numerous parents and students in the Catalina Foothills School District. They give their bus service an "F."

They say buses are often a half-hour late, occasionally an hour behind. And high school sophomore Micaela Foley told us, "One day last year, the bus did not show up at all after school."

A school district spokesperson told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that 12 out of its 34 buses were out of service.

The district is paying Illinois-based Durham School Services $1.2 million taxpayers dollars in this, the fourth year of a five-year contract

Catsoros said, "Well if it's a contract, then I think they're in breach. It looks like a material breach if you ask me."

The News 4 Tucson Investigators obtained an email that schools superintendent Dr. Mary Kamerzell recently sent to parents. Kamerzell opened with, "Understandably, disgust with our student transportation's level of service is reaching an all-time high."

She added "The Department of Public Safety 'downed' several buses due to needed repairs. As a result, Durham...combined more bus routes than ever and for the first time in our history, even canceled a couple of routes. Communication to our families over these unexpected issues was poor."

Parents also say the bus tracking app has often been down and inaccurate.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators went to three bus stops over four days last week in the morning. Buses for the high school were on time on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The bus for Ventana Vista Elementary School showed up on Sunrise Drive near Swan 29 minutes late on Thursday morning.

"I can say that we've had a pretty bad year transportation wise," said Doug Huie, the district's director of facilities and transportation. He added, "When we have not enough drivers or not enough buses, two routes get combined and are driven by one bus driver so inevitably, someone's going to end up on the short end. So that's why they're so late."

A spokesperson for Durham School Services, Ed Flavin, emailed us: "These delays were due to having our routes being combined, as well as having some of our vehicles out-of-service. We will update the district with our latest route sheets, which will provide parents bus stop times when routes are combined and will help them to determine when to leave for the bus stops, rather than having to wait for prolonged periods until the bus arrives."

The spokesperson acknowledged that Durham is short, "a few drivers" and is working to add more. He added, "We are taking the proper steps and are committed to resolving these issues and apologize for any inconveniences this may have caused...."

Huie said, "We're impressing upon Durham that we've got to finish this year stronger than it's been. It can't get any worse."

The News 4 Tucson Investigators have learned that Catalina Foothills administrators are meeting on Tuesday with the bus company's regional manager. The superintendent says the district is soliciting bids from other companies and is studying whether to bring student transportation in-house.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

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