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'I can't do this every day': Parents scramble after more than 100 MPS school bus routes canceled

Posted at 10:24 PM, Apr 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-14 23:24:50-04

MILWAUKEE — An email from a Milwaukee Public Schools Principal says more than 80 school buses and more than 160 school bus routes were canceled on its first day of in-person learning in 13 months.

The email, sent to TMJ4, notes school bus driver shortages as the reason for the route cancellation. Wednesday Kindergarten through 3rd-grade students attended class, marking the first day for in-person learning at MPS since the pandemic shut things down in March of 2020.

Email of MPS Bus issue
An email sent by an MPS Principal alleges 80 buses and 160 bus routes were canceled due to a bus driver shortage.

"The kids' bus was supposed to come at 8:23," Clarissa Smiter, a mother of three children at Burbank Elementary said. "It never came this morning. We waited on the porch until 9:00 and they never showed up."

"I thought the bus was going to pick her up," Marica Johnson, mother of a first-grader said. "No bus came and I had to bring her to school."

Johnson says she had to leave her job to drop her daughter off and pick her up today. While she wants her daughter to be physically in school, she says this won't be sustainable.

"I can't do this every day," Johnson said. "I have to be at work before they have to be at school. They have to be at school at 9:00 and I have to be at work at 7:00. There is no way I am going to be late for work every day if they don't get this bus situated."

Milwaukee Public Schools issued this statement on the bus issue:

“MPS is aware of some of the challenges families are having with transportation to and from school. We are currently working with our bus companies to address these challenges and make sure all eligible families are being serviced. The district encourages families to reach out to their school directly if any additional issues arise.“

Wednesday evening, officials with Milwaukee Public Schools held a scheduled Zoom meeting to brief parents of 4th through 8th graders on the changes they can expect for their students when they return to in-person learning on Apr. 19.

While no one addressed TMJ4's questions or the busing situation in general on camera, one person did respond in the Zoom chat.

"[M]any of our students were reassigned to another bus today. [P]arents and families can contact the transportation secreatary [sic] at their childs [sic] school to get their new route information," Dr. Toni Dinkins, Regional Superintendent for East Region, wrote.

TMJ4 News was made aware of seven route cancellations at Burbank Elementary, six bus cancellations at Parkside School and two buses never arrived at Barton Elementary.

For Johnson, she received a card Wednesday evening, detailing how her daughter would be able to get to school Thursday morning.

"She gets picked up at 8:42," Johnson said. "I'm hoping that at 8:42, she'll be able to go and I can go to work."

As for Smiter, she's preaching patience.

Smiter family on first in-person day of school in 13 months
Smiter family on first in-person day of school in 13 months

"I'm being understanding," Smiter said. "I was depending on them this morning. But this is just the beginning. You can't expect it to be perfect. Everyone that takes the bus, just be patient. They're coming. You'll get the kids out of the house. We hope the bus shows up tomorrow."

According to Milwaukee Public Schools' Operational Budget, $66.8 million will go towards student transportation. That's roughly 7 percent of the entire operational budget.

As it stands, 14 bus services are contracted to provide service with Milwaukee Public Schools. TMJ4 News has reached out to these bus companies about the situation, but has not received calls back.

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