Marlborough schools demand full coverage of bus routes by NRT

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Marlborough schools demand full coverage of bus routes by NRT
Buses in the parking lot at Solomon Pond Mall in Marlborough. Marlborough Superintendent Mary Murphy said that NRT hasn’t provided buses for all of its Marlborough and Framingham routes. (photo/Maureen Sullivan)

MARLBOROUGH – Not enough buses. Late arrivals. Late departures. Staff having to stay longer to supervise children after school.

The list of grievances against NRT Bus, which provides transportation to local school systems, is getting longer, and school officials’ patience is getting shorter.

During the Marlborough School Committee meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 28, Director of Finance and Operations Tom LaFleur provided an update on negotiations between MPS and NRT to amend its current contract.

He said a proposal had been sent to NRT on Wednesday, Nov. 22; counsels from both sides have been negotiating ever since.

In an effort to provide more consistent bus transportation, MPS plans to issue in invitation to bid for a vendor to cover four bus routes on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

In a press release sent on Nov. 9, Marlborough Public Schools Superintendent Mary Murphy said NRT has failed to provide buses for all of its routes in Marlborough and Framingham.

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Marlborough’s Advanced Math and Science Academy (AMSA) Executive Director Lisa Mobley and Framingham Superintendent Robert Tremblay are also joining the call and urging NRT to immediately resume all bus routes.

“Hundreds of public-school students in Marlborough and Framingham are experiencing a loss of learning due to ongoing problems with NRT Bus Inc.,” said Murphy.

Marlborough and Framingham, along with AMSA, are demanding that NRT “immediately resume transportation on all bus routes as originally scheduled, provide sufficient bus drivers and substitute bus drivers for all routes, and appropriately staff its dispatch center to ensure every call is taken by a trained and experienced dispatcher,” said Murphy.

Murphy said that some students are arriving 30 minutes late and not heading home until one hour after dismissal. This has not only put stress on students, but for parents as well. It’s also affecting school budgets with staff working additional hours to supervise students after school.

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“We’re most concerned for students with special needs and those in underserved communities, all of whom are increasingly facing daily uncertainties. Many of these students are missing the support services they rely on,” said Murphy.

Administrators at AMSA say only 37% of buses report on time. 

“This leaves over 100 students waiting for an hour or more for transportation, which is completely unacceptable,” said Mobley.

“In Framingham, we are a district of more than 9,000 students. We are down 20 drivers in the morning and closer to 25 drivers every afternoon,” said Tremblay. “We continue to be significantly short on drivers with no indication of improvement, and our buses are consistently late. It has long been established that bus delays are directly connected to significant difficulties experienced by students, families and educators alike. The bottom line is our students deserve better.”

NRT has told school officials of an ongoing shortage of bus drivers. While it has been able to recruit prospective drivers, many either do not complete training for their commercial drivers’ license, or they find employment elsewhere.

In mid-October, following two months of consistent disruptions to bus schedules, Marlborough Public Schools sent NRT a letter stressing that the busing contractor fulfill its agreement.

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The letter, shared with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, cites a series of contract violations including, but not limited to, failure to provide buses for all routes bid on and failure to provide enough licensed bus drivers and available dispatchers.

A spokesperson from NRT issued the following statement: “NRT remains focused on transporting our students safely and promptly to and from school, against the backdrop of an unprecedented labor shortage that impacts teachers and drivers alike. Fighting this challenge in the media is not productive, and we look forward to working with the school districts to solve this issue.”

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