Portland Public Schools Facing "Critical Shortage of Bus Drivers"

September 20, 2019

 

The following text is from a message sent to parents of children in the Portland Public School District by Superintendent Will Heath on September 19th.

 

I wanted to send a note to all parents to help explain our current critical shortage of bus drivers and the impact it is currently having on our students and families.  Before I get into our driver shortage issue I want to thank our current drivers for their dedication to the mission of transporting students safely to their destination. 

 

We are lucky to have this dedicated staff handling this very difficult job.  If you have a chance please take a moment to thank your bus driver.

 

We have a critical driver shortage at this time.  What makes our driver shortage critical is that it is impacting our ability to transport students.  As of today we are three drivers short of having enough drivers for all of our routes and six drivers short for our trips. We also only have a limited substitute pool available when our drivers are out sick.  Driver shortage is an issue across the State and is not just a Portland issue. There are a lot of solutions that districts across the State have attempted to put in place to solve this problem but they have had minimal impact.  Our team in Portland has reviewed all of these solutions to see if any would make an impact on our situation. The bottom line is that we can’t solve the driver shortage without adding new drivers. The pool of people willing to drive a school bus has drastically decreased over the last few years.  

 

We have been able to manage so far this year because our Director of Transportation and Mechanic have been able to fill in when needed.  We are very fortunate that we are able to have them drive. Unfortunately, we recently had a driver resign and it has put us in a tough position to ensure that we have transportation for all of our trips and our routes.

 

This year we have been able to staff all of our daily routes and we hope that we can continue to do so.  Our current driver shortage puts us in danger of not having enough drivers on any given day to staff our routes.  If this happens the district will work to get all students to school on time by reducing and consolidating routes.  But, it will require us to change some routes and pick up times. This will not be an easy task as our current routes are all basically full.  We are currently working out a plan to adjust our routes if one of our drivers is not available to drive.  We will communicate to those families that will have changed routes. Unfortunately, if we need to run alternate routes we will not normally know this need until the night before, but more likely it will be in the morning.  We will send out a message as soon as we know of a shortage to give families as much time to adjust their schedules.

 

The biggest impact of our driver shortage so far is with field trips and sports trips.  Over the past few years this has been an issue and we have had to cancel events or ask parents to transport athletes.  This is not ideal and we completely understand the impossible task that this causes families who need to get out of work in time to transport students.  The issue is that most of our trips leave before our afternoon routes return. This requires us to have an extra driver to take that route. We do our best to schedule departures outside of our route times but we do not always control when events start and end.  

 

There have been some concerns with what takes priority in getting transportation.  Priority will always start with our daily routes first. After that it goes to events and trips that we can actually complete with our current staffing without impacting our daily routes.  If we need to select between multiple trips we will start with Varsity sports and Band and then work our way down to Middle School sports. There are a lot of factors that we take into account when making these decisions and those factors include the event location, number of athletes on the team, league vs non-league events, and team vs individual sports.  We do not place any priority to any individual program. We look at every day with a new priority list that incorporates all of the factors of our events. 

 

With all of this said, I want to encourage everyone to help us recruit drivers.  We need daily route drivers, special trip drivers (athletics), van drivers, and substitutes. The district will pay for all of the training needed to become a certified bus driver.  The district offers a $500 signing bonus for new route drivers and a $500 referral bonus for the person who referred that driver. Please contact our transportation department or Gary Bond directly @ gbond@portlandk12.org.

 

Thank You,

Will Heath

Superintendent

Portland Public Schools

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