Aug. 5—The Boulder Valley School District, facing a bus driver shortage, hired enough drivers this summer to get all students who registered for bus service to school in the fall — but still expects to call on other transportation staff to fill in the gaps.
Tony Skala, Boulder Valley's transportation director, said the district has about 160 bus drivers, but would like about 190.
"We've been heavily recruiting, and we've seen some progress," he said. "Things have improved, but we're not out of the woods."
As a stop gap measure, he said, the district will need to rely on routers, dispatchers, supervisors and mechanics who have commercial licenses to cover absences. Because drivers aren't fully staffed, the district also plans to contract with an outside company to provide busing for athletic trips.
"There's probably a good chance I myself will be driving," Skala said. "We will do whatever it takes to get students to school."
Boulder Valley officials have said a national shortage of commercial drivers, the high cost of living in Boulder County and competition with delivery services are contributing factors to the district's ongoing shortage. The district is offering signing bonuses and recently bumped the starting pay to just over $20 an hour.
The district is using several strategies to reduce the number of bus drivers needed, including consolidating routes and bus stops. A 12-member transportation advisory board, which included parents and school staff members, provided feedback as the district worked through its options.
At the secondary level, the district moved more of its bus stops to larger artery streets. At the elementary level, there are fewer overall bus stops, but stops generally remain inside neighborhoods. The overall idea, officials said, is students come to the bus instead of the bus going to students.
In evaluating routes, the district found seven bus routes that were inside the district's "walk zone." Those routes likely were added in newer developments before improvements like crosswalks were made to create safe routes to walk or bike, district officials said, and so now can be removed.
To keep routes pared down to only those that are needed, current school district families whose children are eligible for bus service were asked to register for bus service through Infinite Campus by July 1. Those who didn't meet the deadline can add their children to a waitlist through Infinite Campus, while families new to the district or who changed schools can still register for bus service.
About 4,200 general education students requested bus service, district officials said. Approximately 600 additional students who receive special education services also will get a bus ride to school.
Encouraging students to walk and bike to school or use public transportation where available is another district strategy.
The district is adding transportation pages to school websites that include information about all those options, as well as offering a matching program to connect families for carpools or walking groups. The district also is enhancing its volunteer crossing guard program and hiring paid crossing guards at certain intersections.
"We're rethinking transportation and thinking through all the options," said Landon Hilliard, Boulder Valley's Safe Routes to School coordinator.