Summit School District looking at all avenues to help with transportation shortages
As the school year kicked off at Summit School District, some students and families weren’t sure if they’d have a spot on the bus and, therefore, a ride to school.
“This has just been a really disappointing situation,” Superintendent Roy Crawford said at the Thursday, Aug. 26, school board meeting.
The district is still actively working to recruit new bus drivers and even raised its wages again, starting at $21 an hour. The district did a market survey of the area and determined it was paying its bus drivers less than other Summit organizations that used commercial drivers, as well as neighboring school districts. Crawford said in the board meeting that he doesn’t know if there’s anything more the district could have done in terms of recruiting.
Crawford also said he wishes the district was able to inform parents sooner that this might happen, but they remained optimistic they would find a solution. He said he doesn’t blame anyone other than himself for this.
District leaders met with the Summit Stage transit service in hopes that the county would adjust their routes to get kids to school on time, but Crawford said ultimately they were not comfortable changing because of how many people rely on the routes as is.
“They were extremely cooperative, they were extremely sensitive to our needs, I can’t say that enough,” Crawford said. “However, they have riders currently riding their routes who rely on their timetable to get to work. … Our kids aren’t the only residents in the county that need their support.”
Crawford said Summit Stage will reevaluate when it comes time for its winter routes and schedule in November. He said the district spoke with Breck Free Ride, as well, which likewise couldn’t do much to help.
Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue helped Crawford to connect to private bus companies, most of which are having driver shortages of their own and therefore couldn’t assist.
Another option the district looked into was finding shuttles that could bring kids from Dillon and Breckenridge — where most families are having transportation difficulties — to the middle and high schools. Crawford said one private vendor said they need to pay drivers for an eight-hour day, even though the district would only need drivers for a few hours in the mornings and afternoons. Another issue that came up is different considerations for insurance.
Additionally, the Colorado Department of Education has regulations on student transportation and said the district could use private shuttle companies as long as they were inspected by a department-certified inspector and the drivers received the schools’ training. Students also need to be dropped off in parking lots and spots off the road since shuttles wouldn’t have flashing lights or stop signs.
The district is open to anyone willing to get certified to drive a bus. Board director Johanna Kugler said she knows someone who can drive in the mornings but not afternoons, and Crawford said the district would be willing to work with this flexibility.
The district pays for all training and certifications for the drivers, but Crawford also said there is a disincentive for those with a commercial drivers license to get the school bus driver endorsement. Prospective drivers would have to take the whole commercial drivers license course over again, and, if they fail the bus portion of the test, they lose their current commercial drivers license.
The district also sent out a call to all current district employees to see if anyone would be willing to go through the four-hour training course, and leadership got two responses to this.
Board director Tracey Carisch brought up a concern many parents have shared with the district’s requirement that students must ride the bus in the mornings and afternoons. She said some students that need a spot on the bus are giving up their after-school enrichment activities because they couldn’t get a ride in the mornings.
“If we are putting that requirement that you have to be (riding in the) morning and afternoon, we are taking opportunities away from some of our kids,” Carisch said.
Crawford said he has spoken to parents about this and principals have expressed their frustration, as well, but he said if kids are on and off the bus based on their sports schedules, then that means there are empty seats on the bus. He said they are looking into the possibility of splitting it into a morning and afternoon lottery and that they are open to any ideas.
Another concern Carisch said parents have expressed is that high school students who can’t ride get a spot on the bus and then drive themselves are forced to pay a parking fee. Crawford said the board would have to approve waiving the fee with a resolution, and they didn’t have time to prepare a resolution before Thursday’s meeting.
Kugler said leadership should try to send out surveys within individual schools asking specific questions about their transportation needs as opposed to just asking the entire district if they need a bus.
“We’re still working at it,” Crawford said. “We haven’t given up yet.”
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