MCSD affected by national bus driver shortages
Across the nation, school districts are facing the impact of a major school bus driver shortage, and Moffat County School District is no exception.
Currently, MCSD only has 70% to 75% of its usual fleet, causing administrators to revamp and rethink how to get students to and from school. In a county that’s almost as big as the state of Connecticut, it usually takes 19 drivers to transport students across that area, according to director of facilities and maintenance Jarrod Ogden. This year, though, MCSD is working with 13 to 14 drivers, including substitutes.
“We run 10 dedicated routes, and I have consolidated to the best of my ability. We consolidated three routes, but I really can’t do it anymore,” Ogden said.
Consolidating a route, Ogden said, means that some routes have been combined in order to transport more kids using the same buses or routes. Whereas a bus’s capacity used to be at 50%, that could now be between 70% to 80%. While each bus has a capacity of 72 students, filling every seat can cause issues in ridership, meaning children on routes farther out in the county would spend more time on buses.
“Those poor kids would be on the bus forever,” Ogden said.
For children who live in the farthest corners of Moffat County — such as students who live toward Browns Park — MCSD facilitates a Suburban to take them to Maybell at 6 a.m., where they are then picked up by a school bus that drives them to their respective school buildings.
Ogden said that several reasons have contributed to a shortage specifically in Moffat County. First — as with any bus driver job — the hours can be difficult to fit alongside a normal 9-to-5 job or even some part-time jobs with a “split shift.” Drivers work morning hours from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., and then they begin the second half of the day from 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Another issue is pay. With only five hours of work per school day, it’s hardly enough to support one single person, let alone a family, Ogden said.
“We’ve done our best to receive substantial raises for our drivers,” Ogden said. “I think we started out in 2018. I think our bus drivers were given $13 to start, and now in 2021, our step one pay is $17.85 an hour. We have done everything we can to incentivize it.”
Ogden added that many of the current drivers are retirees who already have a stable source of income, and those drivers mainly do the job because they enjoy it or want a job to get out of the house. A couple have been able to find other jobs that fit in between the morning and afternoon hours, but the unusual hours combined with no benefits has become a barrier for others to apply.
“Our drivers are doing all they can do,” Ogden said. “We’re on the cusp on a few routes where we have to consider expanding those back out (because of an influx of new students). I have a couple of maintenance crew that help out when they can. I myself drive when I need to. Portions of the administrations have stepped up on smaller routes.”
Hiring drivers was a problem even before the pandemic for schools across the country, but as schools moved to virtual learning, the need for drivers dropped almost instantaneously. Across the state, schools scrambled upon their return to in-person learning to fill hourly positions and non-teacher staff. In August, Denver Public Schools needed more than 200 classroom aides and 100 custodians, along with 60 bus drivers.
Ogden said that though this is not an isolated problem in the Craig community, they are still working diligently to make it work — through outreach for more drivers and adjusting current routes and plans — and find candidates who can fit in the “niche positions” like drivers.
“We’re still looking and posting that job on social media,” Ogden said. “Another incentive we offer is that we train and pay to get (bus licenses).”
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Over 7% of the Moffat County School District’s alternative school has tested positive for COVID-19, meaning that staff will be required to wear masks over the next week.