Westbrook parent Greg Blake said it takes his two second-grade boys 45 minutes for their half-mile ride from home to Prides Corner School in the morning. He said he drives his boys this year because one of them gets carsick being in the bus that long.

Blake is one of many residents who have spoken up recently about the time their children are spending on the bus each day. And with the possibility of the new junior high school being located on one end of the city on Stroudwater Street, those long bus rides are becoming a hot topic in Westbrook.

The Westbrook School Committee will hold a meeting next week with members of the Westbrook City Council to discuss school busing. The meeting will be held Tuesday in room 114 at Westbrook High School, and is open to the public.

School Committee Chairwoman Colleen Hilton said Tuesday that she thinks bus routes are important at the moment because of the possibility of a new junior high being built on Stroudwater Street and bus routes being altered. She said she’s hoping the meeting on Tuesday will bring parents out to give the committee input on bus-ride lengths and walking distances, among other topics.

According to Brendan Rielly, Westbrook City Council president, a number of parents have expressed concerns regarding bus ride lengths. Hilton said neither the school committee nor the school district’s transportation department had received complaints.

“My youngest child rides the bus home from school 45 minutes each day. The school is 2 miles away,” said Rielly this week. “This is fairly common. When I was growing up in Westbrook and riding the buses and going to the same school my youngest now attends, I never had to ride the bus that long.”

Sue Joyce, a parent and city councilor, agreed with Rielly, saying her children spend about 45 to 50 minutes on the bus every afternoon in a 2-mile drive from school.

“We need to determine how long we want our children to be on the buses, then budget for the additional buses if need be,” Joyce said this week.

The school department altered bus routes two years ago to improve efficiency. With the new routes, many buses that were running at 50 percent capacity now run at around 90 percent. That increased efficiency, however, has come at the cost of students’ time.

Before that change, Westbrook school buses picked up third- through fifth-graders in one run, then returned to pick up kindergartners through second-graders in a second run. The change two years ago combined the two runs for the first time since 1975 in an attempt to improve efficiency.

“I thought it was better,” said Joyce of the new routes, although she added that she understands that parents have complained. She said she recently asked Penny Esposito, director of the transportation department, to do an analysis of bus-ride times to see if they were longer.

Wes Douglas, a neighbor of Joyce’s near Prides Corner and father of a fifth-grade daughter who rides the bus 50 minutes in the afternoon, said Tuesday he hopes the school department will establish a maximum amount of time any student will have to ride the bus. He said he thinks it should be particularly important that younger kids don’t ride the bus for extended periods.

Blake agreed, saying that 45 minutes is too long for his second-grade boys to ride the bus. “By the time they get to school, their attention span is already down,” he said.

For Douglas, he said he’s concerned about a possible new junior high school located on Stroudwater Street. He lives in the Prides Corner side of town, and is worried that his daughter will have an even longer ride across town.

“I think we need a commitment from the city that no child should ride a bus longer than 25 minutes,” Rielly said. “Many parents throughout the city are frustrated with the busing and don’t understand the system.”


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