Bus driver shortage continues in Laurel School District

By 
Chris Mcconnell Outlook Staff Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2022
A bus drops off students at the Middle School during the driver shortage in the district which has forced administrators to cut transportation for students living less than three miles from their schools. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell

A bus drops off students at the Middle School during the driver shortage in the district which has forced administrators to cut transportation for students living less than three miles from their schools. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell

On Tuesday morning the “route board” at the Laurel Public Schools transportation department didn’t look too bad, with only a couple of driver/route changes expected. “This is a good week,” transportation director Zada Stamper said as the last of the drivers returned their buses after the morning routes.

Due to staffing shortages in the department, the Laurel School District was forced to move to the Tier Two plan on Jan. 3 which eliminated transportation for students who live within three miles of their school; a change affecting 159 kids. Several routes have been combined with some students now required to walk to designated pick–up sites.

Stamper said she understands the change has been difficult for some families. “There are some situations where a neighbor’s student who attends, say West School, can be picked up but their student who goes to the Middle School can’t. I understand the frustrations and appreciate that parents have been able to figure it out. The entire community has been good at supporting each other and it’s been making neighborhoods more neighborly.”

She doesn’t anticipate the district moving to the Tier Three level which would eliminate in–town transfers, but it’s clear that hiring additional staff is a priority.

Stamper said the district has just enough drivers to operate at the current level. “We are running eight of 12 routes with five full time positions, which includes two drivers who have job share positions.” She said they are making it work and students are getting to school on time, but they don’t have the backup resources if drivers are out sick, have surgeries or personal or family matters to attend to.

In addition, the district has been forced to use Sarpy Transportation for all activities which is expensive and increases the membership cost for extracurricular activities such as ski and outdoor clubs, among others.

Before Christmas break, Superintendent Linda Filpula said the district had spent $30,000 on contracted bus services on fall sports and activities and said they “anticipate spending $80–90,000 by the end of the school year,” but they have no choice.

There is no conspiracy involved in the state–wide bus crisis and the solution seems simple: Hire bus drivers. However, they just aren’t getting the applicants.

Stamper said if just two full–time drivers were hired the district could begin transporting all students again, including those who live under the three mile radius.

“I’ve only gotten two calls about the positions and neither of them worked out,” she said.

The district got a bit a good news this week when Misty Hull, the owner of 406 Kids, agreed to help out in one of her 11– passenger vans.

Hull, who also owns and operates Laurel’s Main St. Perk, said “I was contacted by the school district on Friday and told them I’m able to help in the morning, transporting up to 11 kids to their schools. This is going to be a process of trial and error but I will start picking up kids around 7:15 a.m.”

Hull said her husband might be interested in using the childcare business’ second van to bus additional students as well.

Stamper called Hull amazing and said, “She is an angel for how she steps up and helps the community.”

The district is willing to work with anyone’s schedules and drivers with young children (ages three and above) are able to bring them along on the routes which may entice potential applicants looking for part time jobs who otherwise couldn’t do it without childcare.

Stamper noted they have a local paramedic, real estate agent, Carbon County mailman and police reservist who help out on routes in their spare time.

Anyone with questions or an interest in picking up a full–time or part–time position as a bus driver in the district can contact Stamper at 628–7630 or via email at zada_stamper@laurel.k12.mt.us.

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