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Schools fuming at busing foul-ups

Free field trips to pre-Olympic events have turned out to be anything but for Granite School District, which plans to bill the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for unforeseen transportation costs.

Granite isn't the only district fuming over the way SLOC has handled transportation for schools invited to the training events. One district is questioning whether to continue participating in SLOC's free-ticket program.

"We had a disastrous experience up there," (at the World Cup snowboarding competition in Park City two weeks ago), said Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams. Buses returned two hours late, and one sustained $6,000 damage when it slid into another bus. "We're not saying they're incompetent, but it's not working."

Davis District transportation officials are considering billing SLOC for damage to the bus and say they would be glad to sit down with SLOC to work out a better transportation plan.

"It put us in a tailspin," Jordan District transportation director Steve Woods said of a February ice skating competition that forced buses to miss afternoon routes. "(But) I'm not billing them . . . there's no price tag on the frustration."

SLOC spokeswoman Caroline Shaw said she was aware of "a minor glitch with school buses" at snowboarding competition. Shaw said there was a mix-up in the parking order of the buses, causing delays to and from the venue.

Shaw said SLOC has not received a bill from Granite but will "definitely review it" and take into account the district's concerns. "We have looked at the problems from that day and have clarified the rules for pick-up and drop-off with our parking personnel."

Some transportation issues will crop up as venues prepare for the Games, Shaw said, noting that transporting the students to and from the events serves as a test run for transportation arrangements for the Games.

"This is the only problem we've heard about," Shaw said. "The others have come off without a hitch, and the kids have had a fabulous time."

Granite's 32 buses were sandwiched between buses for other school districts and couldn't get out when they needed to. They also were trying to pick up students in the middle of the afternoon bus rush.

Some of the planned four-hour trips turned into seven. Twenty-two of the buses had afternoon routes, requiring the 70,000-student district to improvise. The district racked up overtime and extra field-trip costs that could amount to $1,800, Granite transportation area supervisor Don Bawden said.

"We're billing SLOC. Whether they'll pay it or not is another story," he said. "In SLOC's behalf . . . obviously, when you try something new, there are some glitches. But I feel events are coming off OK."

SLOC is giving schools tickets to training events leading up to the 2002 Winter Games. The ". . . classroom to events . . ." program distributed 70,000 tickets to schoolchildren last year, plus another 73,000 this year. Thirty thousand more tickets are available. Tickets are offered for 95 test and training event sessions and are available to all 865 public, private and parochial schools in the state. An average of three teachers per school have requested tickets to attend one or more events.

But busing headaches have Woods questioning whether his district should sign up to receive more or even continue its commitment.

"I can't make that call and say (students) can or can't go," said Woods, who wants Jordan administrators to address the topic. "But it's a frustration I need some input on."

Salt Lake, Davis, Hurricane and Weber schools also have experienced busing delays in recent weeks when taking students to the Delta Center and Park City for figure skating and snowboarding events, respectively.

Jordan sent as many as 40 buses to last month's two-day event at the Delta Center. Two or three were late getting back to their afternoon routes on the first day; six or seven were late the next. The district had other bus drivers fill in for late colleagues and called in substitute drivers.

At the snowboarding event, buses parked away from the resort until they were radioed to pick up their parties.

"We had to wait quite a while . . . 45 minutes . . . for our bus to pick us up," said Barbara Hill, resource aide and trip adviser from Hurricane High in Washington School District.

Salt Lake City School District route coordinator Les Lewis said transportation glitches didn't hurt his district. And Hill notes that transportation was no problem at Paralympic events at Snowbasin.

Weber School District praised the program despite problems.

"Some buses were getting back late, and it has been a challenge doubling up routes," spokesman Nate Taggart said. "But the learning opportunities for students far surpass the problem. Students will never have another chance to do this."