Kitsap School Districts Look To Paid Training And Bonuses To Address Bus Driver Shortages

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Jordan Harris, 14, a special education student, started at Olympic High School three weeks ago, but has yet to have a chance to board a school bus to take him there.

Her mother, Valarie Harris, adjusted her work schedule to handle drop-offs and pickups, juggling online meetings as the Central Kitsap school district resolves a bus driver shortage and other staff issues that have prevented her son from taking the bus like other children with special needs at school.

“I understand. I understand that they have issues with the staff… I hope they all get out of this,” said Valarie Harris. “But as a parent it is still a little frustrating sometimes.”

All the school districts in Kitsap and North Mason counties have the help they want, actively recruiting bus drivers. They offer paid training and expense reimbursement in addition to the salaries and benefits they usually tout to attract applicants.

For the first time, the Central Kitsap School District is offering bonuses ranging from $ 1,000 to $ 3,000 to attract applicants.

New recruits holding a Class A or Class B Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with passenger and school bus endorsements are eligible for a $ 3,000 hiring bonus. Those who do not have a CDL and who apply and register for the training before November 1 can get $ 1,000. Drivers must pass all training and testing and commit to working for the district for one year to qualify for the incentives, according to CKSD.

The bonuses are funded from CKSD’s transportation budget, according to district spokesperson David Beil.

CKSD currently employs 70 drivers and must hire at least 12 more to meet the needs. This year some routes had to be changed due to the shortage, Beil said.

The Central Kitsap School District had cut 118 positions after distance schooling began in September 2020. At that time, 72 of the district’s 82 bus drivers were on standby. The district has hired all pending driver positions by November 2020, Beil said.

In-person learning increases the need for drivers

It was difficult for the North Kitsap School District to find enough drivers.

Following: North Kitsap School District is looking for bus drivers

“The shortage has remained similar to what we experienced last year, however, our ridership increased dramatically as we moved to full-time in-person learning,” said the spokesperson for the school district of North Kitsap, Jenn Markaryan.

The North Kitsap School District typically has between 45 and 47 regular drivers and two to three backups. The district is now looking to hire three regular drivers and five replacement drivers, Markaryan said.

The District Transportation Department is evaluating all routes to identify changes that impact the least number of families in North Kitsap, which may include bus route changes or requiring families to transport students or ride. carpooling, said Markaryan.

As for incentives, NKSD offers paid training and reimbursement of expenses necessary to become a certified bus driver, Markaryan said.

“If possible, we ask families to transport students to school or work with friends and neighbors to carpool,” said Markaryan.

Shortages were a problem before the pandemic

The Bainbridge Island school district has experienced a shortage for the past three years, said Erin Bischoff, a spokesperson for the district.

The district needs at least three additional backup bus drivers. Currently, BISD is staffed for its regular routes, but uses one of its mechanics, who has a CDL, to meet needs, Bischoff said.

With the current staff, the district faces challenges for sports activities and travel outside the regular routes, Bischoff said.

Like North Kitsap, BISD offers paid training that results in a CDL if the candidate can successfully complete the training, Bischoff said.

The wages of bus drivers, negotiated with a local union association, increased by 2% from 2020 to 2021, according to Bischoff.

No more parents carrying students

The North Mason school district is suffering from a “serious” shortage after having had the problem for several years, according to Maurine Simons, director of transportation for the district.

NMSD currently has 23 drivers, including substitutes. The number was 37 before the pandemic, which was still below what is ideal for making the service run smoothly, Simons said.

The district is still considering incentives to attract drivers, said North Mason School District Superintendent Dana G. Rosenbach.

Due to the shortage, students have longer bus trips, and buses are fuller and leave or arrive late at primary schools. Some parents are transporting students due to capacity issues, inconsistent downtime and longer commute times, Simons said.

The shortage is also affecting athletes, as matches are canceled or rescheduled to allow transportation, Simons said.

“We are doing everything to avoid cancellation of routes or new changes,” said Simons.

Substitutes are “absolutely essential”

The Bremerton School District has experienced an increased shortage of replacement drivers in recent years and COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, said Marco DiCicco, director of transportation and student safety for the school district.

At this point, BSD has just enough drivers to cover the routes, but it has no back-ups, DiCicco said.

The lack of substitutes affects the district’s ability not only to cover routes but also to take additional trips, such as sports and other activities, DiCicco said. Regular bus drivers can get sick or have other personal issues to deal with and substitutes are “absolutely essential to keep things going,” he said.

The Bremerton School District now has 25 permanent drivers and its goal is to hire three to six substitute drivers, DiCicco said.

The district is training two candidates to become substitutes and continues to recruit new drivers. However, there aren’t many applicants and the training process takes six to eight weeks, DiCicco said.

“We ask for continued patience as we navigate the challenges,” said DiCicco.

As for the incentives, drivers receive an allowance equivalent to the minimum wage during their training program and BSD covers some of the costs they incur to become a bus driver upfront, according to DiCicco.

It would cost those who want a CDL to get training at a driving school between $ 4,000 and $ 6,000, but BSD drivers end up paying around $ 250 to $ 300 out of pocket, DiCicco said.

Bundled routes mean longer bus trips

The South Kitsap School District began to see a significant reduction in the number of bus drivers and a lower than normal applicant pool ahead of the start of the 2020-21 school year, said Jerry McMullen, SKSD director of transportation. .

Currently, SKSD employs 78 bus drivers, including backups, to provide 70 trips each day. The district would like to hire 15 additional drivers to increase the number of routes serving the district and provide coverage for drivers who need time off, McMullen said.

In a typical year, SKSD would operate about 85 routes, according to McMullen.

This school year, SKSD has consolidated many routes due to declining enrollment. Cutting some routes leads to longer bus trips, but for now all SKSD students requiring bus transportation are receiving it, McMullen said.

Whether the district will offer incentives to attract new applicants is under consideration, McMullen said.

Contact late-breaking reporter Peiyu Lin at [email protected] or on Twitter @peiyulintw.

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