The district, in an effort to cut costs because of budget constraints, slashed 2,500 bus stops in Cobb. The district originally cut 11,000 stops, but that number was reduced after numerous complaints from parents.
Still, some parents took issue Monday morning with the trek their kids had to make, while others were frustrated with late bus arrivals and the district's bus stop Web site, which could not locate some students' addresses and shut down periodically throughout the morning because of heavy Web traffic.
At the corner of Berkeley Landing and Kentmere Main in the Kentmere subdivision, located inside the massive Legacy Park subdivision in Kennesaw, parents had mixed feelings.
"The site said the bus was supposed to come at 6:59, so we left at 6:45 and it's 7:26 now and they're just now getting on the bus. So we've been sitting here for almost 40 minutes," Robin Houk said while her sons Hayden, a fourth grader at Big Shanty Elementary School, and Ryan, a kindergartener at Kennesaw Elementary School, climbed aboard their bus. "I think it's horrible. I'd rather pay more taxes than put up with this."
Several parents were frustrated that the bus stop Web site malfunctioned or was unable to find their addresses.
"I couldn't get the Web site to work. Every time I put my address in, it just kept saying, 'sorry, we could not find your address.' So I just checked the boards at school and talked with neighbors," Katy Mathison said as she waited at the stop with her fifth-grader, Katie. "I just figure they're doing it to save money, which we're all doing these days. I don't really have an issue with it, other than not really knowing for sure if I have the right time. Which, now I see that we didn't."
Ellie Stokes, whose son Mark is a junior at North Cobb High School, said that they were able to find their address on the Web site, but were disappointed to find out it was much farther away than last year's stop.
"The Web site said it was 0.4 miles up the hill, so he's walking to the stop this morning, but I think he's going to try to get some friends to pick him up the rest of the year. I have mixed feelings about the stops, but he's OK with it since it comes later this year. Last year it came at 7:30, this year it's 7:50. So he gets to sleep in a little bit," Stokes said.
The growing number of elementary students - and later high schoolers - at the stop also had Houk and Stokes concerned.
"There were never this many kids at one stop before," Houk said. "There are almost 30 kids here now. The kids get more rowdy when there are more kids around, and they get anxious sitting here for over 30 minutes. They're getting impatient. It's just not safe to have this many kids at this stop."
"I am concerned that this isn't safe. There are a lot of kids at this stop, and people use this subdivision as a cut through to the other roads, and as you can see, this is a really busy street," Stokes said. "And it's at the bottom of a curved hill, so some of these cars are coming quickly down the hill, and there are so many kids here, I am concerned that it may not be the safest option."
Cobb County School Board Member Dr. John Abraham said, "The school bus stops are a work in progress."
"We'll take a harder look at the bus stops and some of them could change. Surprisingly, though, there weren't really a whole lot of complaints. There were almost no issues with high schools so I imagine they'll stay as they are, but with middle schoolers, if there is a safety issue or the students are having to carry heavy books and cellos a far distance, then we'll have to make special arrangements. But there will definitely be changes with the elementary school stops. We'll be working with the homeowner's associations to come up with a consensus of where certain stops should be instead, but where there isn't a consensus, the stops won't change. In this economy, and after having to cut $100 million from our budget, we have to be careful with our expenses. But we won't sacrifice safety."
Suzanne Regan, whose sons Austin and Aaron are kindergarteners at Kennesaw Elementary School, said, "As long as it doesn't affect the safety of the children, I don't mind walking a little farther. They're going to make the cuts somewhere, so I'd rather it not be in an area that could really affect the kids."
Cobb County spokesman Jay Dillon acknowledged that the bus stop Web site was temporarily down this morning and that there were delays, but is confident the kinks will be worked out in time.
"So far, bus transportation has gone very well. The only hiccup we've encountered today is that the online system for checking bus routes has been inundated with traffic, and the heavy volume has caused intermittent outages. The routes and stops themselves have gone very smoothly, and all bus-riding children were picked up and delivered to their schools more or less on time. As is always the case on the first day of school, there were isolated delays, but probably fewer than usual this year. Those delays are usually the result of both students and drivers having to get their bearings on the first day, and they will smooth out by the end of the first week. But since we had fewer stops, the delays weren't as bad," Dillon said.
Principals across the county were also busy making sure the kids arrived safely, and that everything ran smoothly once they entered their classrooms for the first day of school.
"We had a fabulous beginning, and it's so nice to see the kids excited to be back," Dr. Doreen Griffeth said, principal of Shallowford Falls Elementary School. "There were very few no shows and no major problems with the bus stops, so we're happy to kick things off with a good start."
In the Marietta City Schools system, Marietta Middle School Principal Dr. Darlene Darby said everything was "absolutely wonderful."
She said the seventh-graders, who are the new students at Marietta Middle, "transitioned very well."