Anchorage School District unveils rotating bus schedule

Students will only have school bus access for 3 out of 9 weeks
At a press conference at ASD headquarters administrators said the district is down about 70 drivers and will have to suspend routes as a result.
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 4:36 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage School District is moving to a rotating schedule for student transportation on buses, and hoping that an aggressive recruitment strategy can help attract enough drivers.

At a press conference at the district headquarters Wednesday, Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt stressed the dire nature of the shortage of over 70 drivers needed to provide transportation for all ASD students. Deputy Superintendent Mark Stock said that approximately 20,000 students are eligible to ride buses, but the district could only serve 7,000 on a daily basis. Parents of approximately 14,000 students will have to negotiate their own transportation to and from school by the time school begins next Thursday.

“Even though we continue to make progress retaining more and hiring new bus drivers, the situation isn’t improving fast enough,” Bryantt said. “This will require adjustments to transportation service district-wide. This will happen in tandem with continuing to recruit staff and working towards restoring the level of service that our families expect in their school system. The district faces a severe shortage of bus drivers.”

The district will move to a nine-week rotating schedule with three cohorts. Each cohort of nearly 7,000 students will be able to ride buses for three continuous weeks, then must arrange their own transportation to school for the other six weeks.

In an email to ASD parents on Friday, Bryantt released the breakdown of bus routes:

  • Cohort 1 (Bus #1-38): Aug 18 - Sept 9
  • Cohort 2 (Bus #39-77): Sept 12 - Sept 30
  • Cohort 3 (Bus #78-116): Oct 3 - Oct 20

“This is going to impact all general education students who are eligible for transportation. Our students who have special education, bus routing due to their individual education plan or IEP will not be affected. Those legal requirements for busing students with needs will continue as they have in the past,” Stock said. “One thing we can do is continue to pull together as a community. We can recruit, recruit, recruit, as best we can do right now. Parents can carpool and many families were bringing their kids to school already, we would recommend they continue to try to help their friends and neighbors out.”

The district’s Director of Maintenance and Operations Rob Holland said that the district is offering a $2,500 bonus over the first semester for both existing drivers, and any new drivers. Holland said that the district’s three-week training for drivers to earn their commercial driver’s license — a Department of Transportation and Public Facilities requirement to drive a school bus — is the shortest training course in Anchorage.

Stock noted that last week, the district was short 76 drivers, but has hired five more since that time, and another 14 are currently in training. Stock called the rotating bus schedule a “short-term solution,” but noted that the district is planning for the rotating schedule to occur all school year unless enough drivers can be hired to fill the shortage.

In the Friday email to parents, Bryantt said the goal is to “stand down the bus route rotations as soon as we are able.”

Stock also noted that the district has suspended parking fees at Anchorage high schools and that the gas card program would be expanded for families in need. Stock said that gas cards had been made available last year, but only about half were utilized by families.

“Last year, we were able to maintain busing in several, if not many of our schools, where there’s higher poverty levels,” Stock said. “But this year, the shortage is so severe that we simply can’t do that. We’ve had to spread it out.”

Stock noted that a national transportation director’s nationwide survey said that 90% of U.S. school districts were experiencing driver shortages, and 30% defined the shortage as “severe.” Families with additional questions can visit the district’s transportation website.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information, and corrected the inaccurate spelling of Bryantt.

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