JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Jeffco Public School is suspending more than two dozen bus routes starting Monday as the district grapples with a bus driver shortage.
The school district sent a letter to parents informing them that the transportation department is facing significant challenges and has been unable to recruit, hire or retain bus drivers despite significant efforts to advertise and attract candidates.
On October 4, the school district is suspending all bus routes for Option Schools and 19 neighborhood routes serving the west and north area.
Alan Gouveia has two son’s who attend Evergreen High School. He said since school started the transportation system has been unreliable, and he’s received several short notices of bus route changes.
“We’ve worked with other parents in the neighborhood, like the kids' friends, to try to arrange rides whenever we can and carpool,” Gouveia said.
He said he understands the transportation department is doing its best to mitigate the employee shortage but wishes communication was better.
“Last minute notifications sometimes make it hard. I’ve had to move work calls around to be able to accommodate,” Gouveia said.
To run a smooth bus operation, the school district needs 335 bus drivers, but the Jeffco transportation department is down 81 drivers.
The district is working on a plan to reimburse families impacted by the bus route suspensions.
The bus driver shortage is being felt across the nation. A recent survey conducted by the National School Transportation Association found many described the driver shortage as “desperate” or “severe.”
“We haven’t seen anything of this nature previously,” said Curt Macysyn, the executive director of the National School Transportation Association.
Macysyn said COVID-19, specifically the delta variant, pushed drivers to retire early and remote learning impacted the hiring process.
“We weren’t recruiting drivers for positions that didn’t exist at that point,” Macysyn said.
He added that the vaccine mandate and extended unemployment benefits also discouraged people from applying. Macysyn expects school transportation problems to continue through the 2022 school year.
Denver Public School is also struggling to meet bus driver staffing needs. The school district is approximately 50 drivers short and has not experienced an increase in applicants. A spokesperson with DPS said the transportation department is using route combining strategies that fit the workload and driver resources.
“In anticipation of potential staffing challenges and the school district's new Healthy Start Resolution, DPS changed bell times for the 2020/21 school year. With that change, Transportation Services focused on improving customer service and scheduled route delays, creating a living wage for bus drivers and reducing the workload to better align with the team's resources,” a statement form DPS says.
The early changes implemented by DPS helped reduce the number of scheduled bus routes by 40.
Once a bus driver is hired, it takes an average of six to 12 weeks of training before they can get behind the wheel.
To help entice drivers, some school districts are offering bonuses. Jeffco Public Schools leaders are exploring opportunities to make the jobs more appealing.
Currently, bus drivers make $19.72 an hour and get full medical and dental benefits. A spokesperson with the school district said drivers are guaranteed 30 hours and can pick up extra shifts. Training for a CDL license costs between $5,000 and $7,000 and is covered by the transportation department.