St. Paul bus driver shortage affecting start of school year

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It’s the first day of school for many families and one new problem parents are dealing with is how to get their children to and from school amid a bus driver shortage.

Tuesday, St. Paul Public Schools officials shared their plans to navigate it all.

Superintendent Joe Gothard said at a press conference Tuesday that this continues to be a nationwide issue. The school district has been working to mitigate these changes since the beginning of the year.

Late last month, St. Paul Public Schools announced the district was short about 50 bus drivers. As of last Wednesday, Gothard noted that one contractor notified St. Paul Public Schools that 36 drivers would not be available for this school year.

Tuesday, the superintendent and other leaders talked about the impact that will have on students and families this year.

"This is a difficult situation to be in. But we’re all hands on deck to resolve these issues," said Gothard, adding he hopes it’s just a temporary thing to move schedules around.

The district addressed the problem just days before classes start on Thursday.

When 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS talked with St. Paul Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Jackie Turner, she said the district is planning to streamline bus stops and asking students to walk to a more centralized spot to get on and off the bus.

Turner said instead of riding on a bus, there may be more students using a bigger passenger van or even Metro Transit. Turner noted Tuesday that Johnson High School has already been using Metro Transit for at least five years now, saying it isn’t anything new. Creative Arts Secondary and Gordon Parks High School also have been using Metro Transit.

Central High School, Como Park Senior High School, Harding Senior High School and Washington Technology Magnet School will be added into the mix of riding Metro Transit to and from school. A free student Go-To card will be issued to students who need it. Turner advised those students who will be taking Metro Transit to school to tell the bus driver that they are students at the respective high schools.

"We’re asking the community to come together," Turner said. "We are better if we work together. If you can drive your kids, neighbors to school, that is certainly a help in this situation. We understand the frustration, but we are asking everyone to grant some grace during these times."

Turner added that schedule times will change anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour difference. Not every school in the school district will have these changes, however.

The following schools will be affected until at least winter break:

  • American Indian Magnet: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Battle Creek Middle School: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Capitol Hill Magnet School: 9:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
  • Jie Ming Mandarin Immersion: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • L’Etoile du Nord Elementary: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (upper campus), 8:40 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. (lower campus)
  • Murray Middle School: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Wellstone Elementary: 9:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Gothard said roughly 10,000 families have been impacted by this shortage in some way. The St. Paul Public Schools district is not the only district short bus drivers.

Despite making some progress Monday, the Stillwater school board is holding an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss transportation issues.

Its transportation vendor said it was able to cover seven routes that were canceled under a plan sent to families last week.

But there were 21 canceled in total, meaning more than a dozen remain uncovered.

Schools are now opening earlier than usual for student drop-off to help families affected by the bus driver shortage.

"We are both employed. I’m usually online at 7 a.m. I’m remote, he goes in every day, so just trying to figure this out is going to be a mess," Annie Daugherty, a Stillwater parent, said.

Crystal Gaebler, another Stillwater parent, said, "So far, my mother-in-law is saying she will, but other than that, because she has medical issues and stuff, if something pops up, I have no other options."

The Minneapolis Public Schools district is also facing the same issues.

The district is offering an incentive for families who are able to drive their children to school, reimbursing them for gas mileage.

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