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Photo by Scott Bartle

A Kyrene school bus was towed from Maricopa Monday morning after a minor accident before school.

“The bus driver hit some shopping carts in front of a grocery store at a low rate of speed,” said Kyrene School District Transportation Director Eric Nethercutt.

The collision occurred as the driver of bus No. 28 pulled into the parking lot to wait for his route to begin later that morning. Nethercutt said no children were on-board.

“The bus was not badly damaged, just the front bumper was bent, and as a precaution, we decided to tow it back to the shop for repair,” Nethercutt said.

The Kyrene School District has 10 bus routes in Maricopa and transports children to five schools in the Valley.

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Maricopa children ride buses to schools outside of the city every day. 

Valley schools that bus Maricopa children:

Kyrene School District:

Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School, Kyrene del Pueblo Middle School, Kyrene de la Estrella, Kyrene de los Lagos, Kyrene del Milenio.

Tempe Union High School District: Mountain Pointe High School

It’s often considered a controversial option that has been available to families since incorporation. Parents send their children to school in the Valley for a variety of reasons, including displeasure with Maricopa schools and perceived better educational opportunities.

The Maricopa Unified School District, the only district with a transportation department, has seen a recent upsurge in parent and student complaints.

Many parents turn to other options.

Two school districts, Kyrene and Tempe Union High, send 15 buses to and from Maricopa five days a week.

The commute involves sitting through rush hour traffic on the troublesome State Route 347, a roadway with a dangerous reputation.

In 2014 there were 104 crashes, 46 injuries and one death caused by vehicular accidents on SR 347, according to the most recent data provided by the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Despite the safety concern, parents who send their children to schools in the Valley said their students are safe.

Bethany Auxier Anguiano’s two children, third and first graders, attend an elementary school in the Kyrene District.

The kids leave the house at 6:30 a.m. to catch the bus, Anguiano said.

“I am not actually concerned too much about the 347 because traffic is so slow during morning rush hour. We have a great bus driver and our bus has seat belts,” she said.

Overall, Anguiano said, there are no major issues with transportation besides the occasional accident on the 347 that prevents students from getting to school on time.

Of the 10 routes running in Maricopa from the Kyrene School District, only one bus has been involved in an accident in the past two years, according to Transportation Director Eric Nethercutt.

Most recently, a Kyrene bus was in an accident on John Wayne Parkway Nov. 6.

“My kids don’t ride the bus in the mornings because my husband drops them off on the way to work, thankfully,” said parent Kathie Gerow-Martin. “(There is) no overcrowding on the way home, but their bus was hit last week in the morning so I’m very thankful they were not on it at that time.”

The Maricopa Police Department said none of the 26 children on board at the time were injured.

Although accidents are reportedly a rare occurrence for Kyrene’s Maricopa routes, Gerow-Martin said SR 347 still worries her.

“(The 347 is) a huge concern with my husband and I, but my daughter has a phone, so I feel a lot better about the commute because, of course, if anything is wrong she can call and text us,” Gerow-Martin said.

Kyrene buses children to three elementary schools and two middle schools. Tempe UHSD transports students to Mountain Pointe High School.

Like Kyrene, the Mountain Pointe routes have been involved in one accident in the past two years, said TUHSD Transportation Director Tim Snow.

Would you like to share your child’s transportation experience? Contact Reporter Michelle Chance at Michelle.Chance@InMaricopa.com.

Human Resources Director Tom Beckett talks about MUSD transportation at a Nov. 8 meeting. Photo by Michelle Chance

A presentation from the supervisor of the Maricopa Unified School District Transportation Department showed the school system pays its bus drivers less than a list of comparable districts.

“You can see from the list there, we are dead-last,” said Tom Beckett, Human Resources director and transportation department liaison.

At MUSD, drivers are paid an hourly wage of $11.02; that’s more than $4 less per hour than the Higley Unified School District.

The conversation during a meeting Nov. 8 came after a series of complaints from parents, alleging habitually tardy buses, poor communication from the district and overcrowding.

“Sometimes it doesn’t appear that way, but we love those community calls and parents letting us know that things aren’t going as well as we’d like,” Beckett told the Governing Board.

Despite grievances posted to social media, parents did not address the school officials during the meeting’s call-to-the-public forum.

Beckett said the district has improved complaints made to the transportation department regarding poor communication by hiring front office staff to answer phones and send messages through the district’s ‘ConnectEd’ system after the position was vacant for over a month.

The path toward solving the district’s transportation problems could also involve a future salary increase.

Beckett said a shortage of bus drivers is one reason for the department’s “challenges” that stem from the beginning of the school year. A bump in pay would be one solution to the problem, he said.

Higher wages for bus drivers could attract and retain transportation employees in the department that currently employs 38 drivers and is in the process of hiring five more.

To widen the pool, the district trains candidates, and aids them through state tests and endorsements, Beckett explained. It can take weeks for a candidate to become fully qualified before they get behind the wheel of a yellow bus, resulting in delays for a department that needs help immediately.

The driver shortage has even affected driver training.

“We have a full-time trainer, but unfortunately she’s been called out of training many times to drive a bus,” Beckett said.

Members of the school board and Beckett agreed a pay increase for all classified employees will be something the district will consider as budget talks ramp up in the coming months.

“Ninety-eight percent of our routes go smoothly every day. There are some challenges, but we have an awful lot of employees really working hard for us,” Beckett said. “I know sometimes they don’t feel appreciated for what they do.”

The issues for the Maricopa Unified School District Transportation Department continued this week.

The Maricopa Police Department cited an MUSD school bus driver Wednesday for “failure to control speed to avoid a collision” after hitting another vehicle.

“The bus was turning left onto Honeycutt Road from SR 347 and clipped the front of the vehicle that was sitting there to turn north onto John Wayne Parkway,” said MPD spokesman Ricardo Alvarado.

The bus driver reportedly continued east on Honeycutt Road after the accident, later telling MPD he did not know he hit the vehicle, Alvarado said.

A witness followed the bus to the transportation department building on Honeycutt Road and called MPD.

Alvarado said damage to the vehicle hit by the bus is unknown, but the report did note the vehicle was towed from the scene.

The report stated the driver of the vehicle declined medical treatment.

“The bus, once it was located at the bus barn, had a white scuff mark to the tire,” Alvarado said.

MUSD Human Resources Director Tom Beckett, who oversees the transportation department, said the district reported the accident to the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the driver will undergo a drug and alcohol screening, per school board policies.

“The driver (…) will have a court date in September,” Beckett said. “The driver has been reassigned pending the outcome of the court’s decision.” 

A collision involving a school bus stopped traffic on John Wayne Parkway Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Michelle Chance

Maricopa police are investigating a school bus-involved accident on southbound John Wayne Parkway, just north of the railroad tracks Tuesday afternoon.

Three children were on board the Maricopa Unified School District bus that was transporting students after the second day of school, said Maricopa Fire & Medical spokesman Brad Pitassi.

A blue Ford truck was involved in the accident as well, and sustained minor damage to the front of the vehicle, Pitassi said, adding there was no damage to the bus. Although MFMD reported the children did not sustain injuries, Pitassi said two of the minors were transported to Chandler Regional Center as a precaution.

“When parents of minors aren’t on scene, we ask them. And a lot of times if there is an accident they say, ‘Take them to the hospital’,” Pitassi said.

The three adults on the bus and the driver of the truck refused medical attention and reported no injuries, Pitassi said.

According to MPD spokesman Ricardo Alvarado, the incident is being investigated as a possible DUI, and the driver of the pickup was detained.