Parents demand answers as Summit School District eliminates bus stops due to driver shortage
October 12, 2018
It's a local drama playing out in towns across the state: frustrated parents butting heads with beleaguered school officials over how their kids are supposed to get to school. Summit School District started the year short eight school bus drivers, which necessitated route changes, as well as consolidation and elimination of certain stops. The district held a meeting with parents affected by the changes Thursday night in Frisco, and while many grievances were aired, little progress was made toward a permanent solution.
Neighborhoods affected by the change include Copper Mountain, Frisco, Silverthorne and Breckenridge. Under Colorado state law, school districts may, but are not required to, provide transportation to students. Under federal law, schools are only required to transport students if they have special needs or are homeless.
Charlie Brittz, a parent of a Breckenridge Elementary student who lives in the Boreas Pass neighborhood, said that his entire neighborhood is without a school bus route after three stops were eliminated.
"The district only gave us a weekend's worth of notice before they eliminated the stop," Brittz said. "They gave us no estimate as to when service would be restored, or if it would be restored, and just said 'that was their best option.'"
A single parent of a Boreas Pass student asked officials whether her child would be held responsible for tardiness or absences, since the child no longer had any way of getting to school. Another parent shared her Summit High School student’s story of being dropped off near the town’s ice rink, far from home, and needing to walk 20 minutes along roads without sidewalks to get home.
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After Brittz and other Boreas Pass parents clashed with transportation officials, with one official reportedly asking a parent if they wanted to drive the bus themselves, the district temporarily had a bus drive the route for a week to give families time to make other arrangements. But Brittz said that is unacceptable.
"This stop has been serviced for over a decade, and 15 to 20 kids use it," Brittz said, a figure at odds with the district's estimate of 12. "We've been given no good reason why ours had to be cut while stops half a mile from the school, or stops only servicing a single student, were not eliminated."
At the meeting the school district, through its human resources director Trisha Foreman, used much of the time trying to explain why the routes were changed and consolidated.
The reasons were numerous. Foreman said the main problem is a severe bus driver shortage statewide, and that training and certifying new drivers takes weeks or months. Aside from needing a Commercial Driver License with 'Passenger' and 'School bus' endorsements, drivers need numerous other qualifications and prerequisites, including a clean criminal record and ability to pass a drug test. The district has raised pay by 7 percent, but that hasn't been enough to entice bus drivers to the district.
As far as why the particular stops in Boreas Pass were eliminated, Foreman could only say that the routes were redrawn based on ridership, pick-up/drop-off times, time on bus, overlap of routes and driver availability. The district also provided a stat sheet about the district's transportation system, which transports 2,300 students every day. Of note is how buses near Silverthorne are already packing kids in "cheek to cheek" without going over unsafe capacity.
But that explanation did not sate Brittz and other parents, some of whom took it upon themselves to follow school buses, timing how long they took to service the route, as well as other routes for stops that were not as busy or as unsafe as theirs. The road to Boreas Pass has many sections that lack any sidewalk or safe place for students to walk the mile or mile-and-a-half to the stop suggested by the district.
A single parent of a Boreas Pass student asked officials whether her child would be held responsible for tardiness or absences, since the child no longer had any way of getting to school. Another parent shared her Summit High School student's story of being dropped off near the town's ice rink, far from home, and needing to walk 20 minutes along roads without sidewalks to get home.
The school district did not have anything to offer in the way of permanent solutions at the meeting, but did say that they had people working round-the-clock to find one. Among the ideas being thrown around are extending existing routes, redrawing the entire bus route map and compensating parents for mileage if they decide to form their own carpools.
Daniel Sanchez, a parent in the Baldy Mountain neighborhood affected by the cuts, volunteered himself to drive a bus if it meant he could help other students in his neighborhood who he considered family.
When asked about giving such late notice to parents, most of whom work full time and had no time or ability to come up with alternate transport options, Foreman could only say that the district acknowledged that it should have tried harder when it came to giving notice.
While much was said after an hour and a half of discussion, no resolution was found at the end. After the meeting, Brittz sent a letter by email to the district signed by himself and other parents, saying that they were not satisfied with the lack of answers or permanent solution. Listing a number of unanswered questions, Brittz demanded another meeting within a week to resolve the crisis.
"We covered a lot of ground, but unfortunately we are not happy that there is going to be an interruption of our service as of Monday," Brittz wrote in his letter in reference to the temporary bus going to Boreas Pass ending its service on Friday. "We still feel that there was inadequate thought given to the decisions made by the transportation department regarding our particular stop."
Brittz said he would also not accept permanent elimination of the stops in the neighborhood.
"It continues … to be our goal to have uninterrupted service to our schools, as we have had for over a decade," Brittz wrote. "Our children are the ones being affected by this the most and we encourage you to share this letter with all parties concerned in order to come up with a better solution very soon."
When reached for comment about the school bus crisis in Colorado, a spokesperson for Jared Polis' campaign for governor said Polis would make public school funding a priority.
"It's absolutely unacceptable that working parents are being forced to either entrust their kids with strangers or take time away from work to get their kids to and from school every day," Polis for Colorado spokesperson Mara Sheldon said. "The bottom line is our public schools need more funding, and Jared will work with Republicans, Democrats and the business community to provide it."
On Friday afternoon, Superintendent Kerry Buhler sent a letter to parents stating that a new driver had been hired and qualified, and two additional temporary drivers had been hired until December. She said the school's transportation department had redrawn nearly every bus route, restoring service to certain areas like Boreas Pass and modifying pick-up and drop-off times on other routes. However, Buhler said the district was still working on drop-off routes for the Highlands neighborhood and Silverthorne, and that the routes may be changed again after December.
If you have any questions about updated routes and changes to the bus map, please contact the Summit School District transportation department directly at 970-368-1070 or visit Summitk12.org/transportation-163fc837.