Springdale works on school bus lines
SPRINGDALE — School administrators are working to prevent bus cancellations this fall by consolidating bus stops and making routes more efficient.
Last year, the Springdale School District grappled with canceled routes, forcing parents to find other ways to get their children to and from school, said Trent Jones, director of communications. of the district. The district recognizes that canceled routes are creating ripple effects throughout the community, affecting not only students, but also parents and businesses, he said.
Coaches and administrators stepped in to help, and even Assistant Superintendent Kelly Hayes and Superintendent Jared Cleveland led by example and led routes, Jones said.
This year, the district is reviewing routes and hiring drivers to ensure routes remain consistent, Jones said. Most bus stops will be within walking distance of student homes, although some rural stops present a challenge and the district is looking for optimal solutions in these areas, he said.
“The hope is that no routes get canceled,” Jones said.
Districts often report shortages of bus drivers, but the past two years have been tougher than usual in the Fayetteville and Springdale school districts, administrators said. Other districts in the region said they have full staff but are still encouraging community members to consider becoming bus drivers.
Finding bus drivers is always difficult, but the covid pandemic has made it harder than usual, Jones said. Last year, the district lost 12 drivers from the previous year, according to Jeremy White, director of assistance services. This year, the district will be down one driver from last year’s number – if, that is, two drivers-in-training pass their commercial driver’s license exam, he said. declared.
The district is the largest in the state with nearly 22,000 students and has 58 regular routes and 19 special education routes, Jones said. His transportation department has an absenteeism rate of around 10%, which has been exacerbated by covid, he said. The new routes have created redundancy when absences occur, he said.
The district hopes to hire 10 more drivers this year, White said. The Springdale driver’s salary starts at $19 an hour plus attendance bonuses, Hayes said. The job also offers flexible hours, benefits and paid training to earn a commercial driver’s license, Jones said. It’s a great way to serve the community and earn extra money, he said.
“There’s never been a better time to be a bus driver,” Jones said.
Jones asked for families’ forgiveness and understanding as the district adjusts to the new bus stops.
“I think it’s important for us to remember the huge impact that the cancellation of bus routes has had on our families and our community, and with that in mind, we will work together to find a solution so that we can make sure those bus lines get there,” he said. “If a family may need to travel further to get to that bus stop, we ask them to be our partner and understand why we are doing it.”
Parents can find updated routes on the district’s website, sdale.org, on the transportation page, Jones said. New areas are uploaded daily, he said.
The Fayetteville School District also had to temporarily cancel some routes for the first time last year due to a shortage of drivers, according to Mike McClure, director of transportation. In some cases, the district arranged dual routes to ensure students were getting to and from school, which caused delays, he said. Sometimes students only arrived at school between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. or returned home only between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., he said.
The district is looking to hire 10 more drivers this year, McClure said. Fayetteville, which serves more than 10,000 students, last year had 53 routes and 43 drivers, he said.
The school is looking for ways to consolidate routes here and there to be more efficient, but that’s difficult when the district grows, McClure said.
Fayetteville raised the starting salary from $14.25 an hour to $19.30 an hour last year to make it more competitive with other schools, including the city’s transit system. University of Arkansas, said McClure. Drivers are also eligible for health insurance and other benefits, even if they work part-time, he said. The district offers training to help drivers get their commercial driver’s license, but the process takes six to eight weeks, he said.
Some drivers are retirees who are at higher risk for covid, so they’ve chosen to stop driving, McClure said, noting that many industries are suffering from labor shortages.
The people driving the buses are student-focused and take pride in their work, McClure said, adding, “We’re looking for good people.”
The Bentonville School District is looking to hire four bus drivers for this fall, according to spokeswoman Leslee Wright. Bus driver pay starts at $19.42 an hour, she said.
Administrators of the Rogers and Gravette school districts say their transportation departments are staffed entirely by bus drivers.
Rogers has enough bus drivers to cover all of its routes, although that could change, according to Charles Lee, assistant superintendent of general administration.
“If there were six candidates in our candidate pool, we would probably hire them,” he said.
Rogers, with more than 15,000 students, 70 routes and 80 drivers, was able to avoid driver shortages and route cancellations last year, Lee said. Several transportation office staff drove as needed and the department has a large pool of replacement drivers, he said.
Pay for drivers at Rogers starts at $17,357 per year for a six-hour workday, according to the district’s wage schedule.
Gravette is fully staffed with bus drivers for the upcoming school year, according to Superintendent Maribel Childress. The district, with an enrollment of over 1,800 students, has 23 routes and 24 bus drivers. Many of the drivers are retirees who like to work part-time, she said.
The bus driver’s salary starts at $10,479 per year for a three hour trip and ranges up to $19,992 per year for the most experienced drivers with a four hour and 15 minute trip, depending on the pay scale of the district.
The district has lost one or two drivers during the covid pandemic who were uncomfortable working because they were at high risk, but several retired drivers have returned to help fill the void when they have heard of the shortage, Childress said.
Childress encouraged anyone with free time before and after school to consider becoming a bus driver.
“Our bus drivers are the first school staff the children see in the morning and the last they see in the afternoon,” she said. “These relationships are very special.”