Updated: September 08, 2021 07:03 PM
Created: September 08, 2021 08:11 AM
A shortage of 12 bus drivers is impacting 39 routes and nearly 1,500 students on the first day of school in Robbinsdale.
"It's unfortunate things unraveled at the last minute," said Jeff Connell, the executive director of facilities, operations, and transportation.
One parent said drop-off "looked like a public safety hazard." Another posted a video on social media calling out the district for "selecting a sub-par bus company."
The district just hired Durham Transportation Services in July but says it learned Tuesday that the company wouldn't be able to fulfill its commitment.
"A couple people didn't pass the drivers test on their first try, a couple people were waiting for drug tests to come back from the routine screening that they do, they didn't come back in time, a couple people were scheduled for a physical, three people from New Orleans who were being flown in from New Orleans, their flight was canceled," Connell said.
Jim Kelley has driven for Kottkes' Bus Service in Andover for 14 years.
"I love working with the kids, it's awesome, that's what keeps me here, absolutely," Kelley said.
If he's not driving, he's recruiting new drivers.
"We have been out hanging flyers, we have been talking to people in groups, we have attended community functions explaining the benefits and what we can offer and it's substantial, we're talking $19.50 an hour to start, more if you have appropriate endorsements, up to $3,500 hiring bonus to come to work with us, the other advantage is you don't work nights and weekends unless you choose to sign up for extra work," Kelley added.
Kottkes' has about 25 drivers in training right now. It'll take two to three weeks to get them on the road, but it's a shortage causing significant logistical challenges.
"The best way to explain it is like putting a big jigsaw puzzle together, you have moving pieces all the time and you are just trying to fit pieces together, and every day the puzzle changes," David Brabender, with Kottkes' Bus Service, said.
Parents are asked to help with transportation through the week in Robbinsdale Area Schools, and they're hoping for remedies next week.
"What if we change bell times, what if we change routing, what if we change community pick-ups, ask more students within a mile to walk to school, these aren't easy decisions either, but they are the things we have to look at," Connell said.
The district said if students weren't in class this week, arrived late or had to leave early, they wouldn't be marked absent or tardy.
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