Mat-Su students are officially back in the classroom

Schools in the district will take turns having ‘no bus’ days until more drivers are hired
Schools in the district will take turns having “no bus” days until more drivers are hired
Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 6:44 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Traffic picked up on Bogard Road around 7 a.m. today as parents dropped off their middle and high schoolers. The normal line of buses was replaced by personal vehicles as the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District put rolling cancelations in effect due to a shortage of drivers.

The shortage comes the first school year after the district’s school board approved a 10-year contract with Durham School Services for student transportation, but Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani said the issue isn’t necessarily new.

“Maybe this year was even more acute because the cruise lines are trying to get up and running and they want to have a really good season because they’ve had two years of a pandemic, and so they really incentivized bus drivers to stay,” Trani said. “I think that made it a little worse for us this year.”

According to district spokesperson Jillian Morrissey, the district is short about 20-30 drivers. Each school essentially has a designated “no bus” day during the week until those positions can be filled, relying on parents to provide their own student transportation. Trani said parents were already doing this last school year as well.

“I think the fact that we did it last year and we’re doing the, you know, almost the same pattern — parents are familiar with it,” Trani said. “Nobody’s happy with it, but I think everyone adjusts in the valley.”

Tuesday — which marked the start of the school year in the Mat-Su — was a “no bus” day for Colony Middle School, where new principal, John Gardner, greeted students as parents dropped them off.

“We are very excited,” Gardner said. “First of the school year is always a special time for educators.”

Gardner took over as principal of Colony Middle School after Colony High School principal, Brenden McMahon, announced his last-minute retirement earlier this month, leading former CMS principal Mary Fulp to take over the high school.

Another change secondary school parents will need to navigate begins next Monday, with a new initiative the district is calling PLC Mondays, or Professional Learning Communities. The concept will give instructional staff members an hour every Monday morning to work together towards student achievement, but it means school will start an hour later for students.

Trani recognized that it will be an additional adjustment for working parents, on top of transportation on “no bus” days.

“We understand that it’s a change, you know, childcare is an issue for people getting to work,” Trani said. “We worked with all of the child care providers across the valley to make sure that they had the capacity.”

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