March 2, 2015
Dear AAPS Families and Staff,
First, I apologize to our AAPS students, families, and staff for the unfortunate inconvenience this morning in facing the challenge of getting students safely to school without bus service. We understand that this disruption in transportation has caused frustration for many, and it is unacceptable. In this communication, I want to follow up on today’s events, update you on our work to mitigate repeated instances of this situation, and highlight the next steps in our process to improve transportation.
Follow-up from Today
Special thanks to all our parents, AAPS staff, and neighborhood community members who worked together today to support our students in getting to school. Despite the transportation challenge, we achieved an approximate 88% attendance rate today. While that is below the district average of 94%, it is a milestone of success that we did not miss a day of school today in Ann Arbor Public Schools. In fact, at the elementary level, attendance rates were very similar to the recent Monday following mid-winter break. The numerous stories of ride-sharing, patience during drop-off, and so many individuals across our community literally ‘going the extra mile’ to support our AAPS students are heartwarming; that is the Ann Arbor way.
Our Work to Address the Situation
As you know, this is the second day this semester that we have faced a failure of our transportation provider, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), to fulfill their contractual obligation to transport our students. Since January, we have been working with the WISD team to authorize, support, and communicate their provision of additional steps in order to ensure the successful completion of this 5-year transportation contract over the coming months. The steps include:
- absence-reporting process was moved up to an earlier time each morning,
- implemented an additional hourly pay increase for transportation employees who maintain good attendance records over the remainder of this semester,
- implemented incentive pay package to be paid at the conclusion of the contract for all transportation employees who will complete their work obligations through June 30,
- guaranteed that all employees will receive an interview with the selected transportation provider and support during the transition process,
- detailed a package with the new transportation provider that will include significant hourly increases for all employees as well as a solid benefits package, and
- currently, work is underway to clarify the details of employee transition, including transfer of seniority and accrued leave days for employees.
I assure you that we take this matter very seriously, and we continue to expect the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) to honor the contract and provide full bus service until the final day of school. AAPS fully expects from the WISD continued and effective work on contingency plans that will enable them to provide reliable and consistent transportation for our students. It is imperative that they honor this obligation in the future.
An appropriate summary of our partnership with the WISD can be found within our contract with them, which states:
It is agreed that the transportation of students is an unusual and specialized function. It is the essence of this Agreement between WISD and The School District that students be transported to and from school regularly, promptly, safely and without interruption or incident and that the interest of the students in such transportation shall take precedence over the interests of either the WISD and its drivers or the District. It shall be the primary obligation of the WISD to operate its affairs so that the District will be assured of continuous reliable and safe service (p. 1).
In short, there is no excuse for a lapse in contractually required transportation. It is clear that the issues of adults must not interrupt the education of our students. In meetings today, we have reiterated this message and the WISD team has responded. We appreciate that the WISD was able to make necessary mid-day corrections to offer bus service this afternoon; that is a very good sign. We will continue to closely monitor this situation every day over the weeks ahead, and we have clearly expressed our concerns directly to the WISD leadership team.
According to Fall, 2014 ridership data, almost 5,000 students rely on District-provided transportation each day, and almost 40% of AAPS students qualify for bus service. Without important bus service, our most vulnerable students, those from homes impacted by poverty, are often those unable to obtain a ride to school and so miss an important day of instruction. Providing transportation services for our students is an important component of the social contract in public school education systems and appropriately, represents a fundamental part of what our AAPS parents expect and deserve. Safely transporting our students fulfills the trust the public has placed in us as a District. This is a matter that we take very seriously.
After the initial occurrence on January 8 when AAPS had to close schools due to lack of drivers, I requested that families prepare a contingency plan to work with neighbors and to have car pools in place. Today, those plans were put to the test. We ask our community to continue to work with friends and neighbors to assist with transporting students to school in the case that this unfortunate situation should ever arise again.
Our critical mission of teaching and learning is precipitated on having our students at school on every day we possibly can. While our commitment is to continue diligent work with the WISD to improve the transportation situation, we will not cancel school if this situation should occur again.
Next Steps with Transportation
Important next steps to improve transportation in AAPS include:
- approval by the Board of Education of a new transportation provider to begin work on July 1, 2015 (approval is scheduled for March 11),
This approval follows a full, open, and robust Request for Proposal process including interview, deliberation and recommendation of a Transportation Advisory Group, made up of parent, administrator, and community member participants.
- continued vigilance over the successful completion of the current contract with the WISD,
- additional outreach to our community to work together to enlist support for each of our students in the case of any repeated failure to transport, and
- work to ensure a smooth transition to improved quality and consistency in transportation service for next school year.
Thank you, AAPS students, parents, staff, and community for your support in what is clearly a difficult situation. We appreciate your patience and willingness to transport your students to school so that we can achieve the maximum learning time with our students in class.
I promise that we will continue to do all we can to work with the WISD to ensure consistent transportation service through the end of this school year, and we look forward to finalizing plans and implementing steps to achieve improved transportation service for our students in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Dr. Jeanie K. Swift