Active-duty airmen to drive some Anchorage school buses

With the Anchorage School District suffering a shortage of bus drivers, active-duty airmen will now be called into action behind the wheel.
Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 4:00 PM AKDT|Updated: Aug. 26, 2022 at 6:44 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - With the Anchorage School District suffering a shortage of bus drivers, active-duty airmen will now be called into action behind the wheel.

In a letter sent to parents Friday afternoon, ASD Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt said that four airmen with the 673rd Logistics Readiness Group will drive buses beginning Sept. 1.

“We are on track to be fully staffed between now and October with these current trends and developments. However, we are still in need of bus driver applicants,” Bryantt wrote. “We currently have 162 bus drivers active on routes and 25 more in training. We are currently interviewing 21 potential candidates. Additionally, we will have 17 late return drivers joining us by Sept. 19. We are offering new bus drivers up to $2,500 extra and new bus attendants up to $500 extra for the first semester of the 2022-23 school year.”

Acting Chief Operating Officer at the district, Rob Holland, says JBER will be providing five drivers to cover the schools on base, allowing four drivers to go back into Anchorage routes starting September 1.

“That will allow us to reinstate routes. Right now, we are reinstating routes as we have drivers get behind the wheel after vetting and training, and that will help us immediately establish four routes,” Holland said.

In addition, the school district says 42 more drivers have been hired and are in training while another 35 people have sent applications.

“The 42 plus the 35 is very, very encouraging,” Holland said. “It’s a tremendous improvement, a great community response.”

Where those four routes will be reinstated has not yet been decided. But, factors are likely to include where the most need is. Holland, also says the district is working on long-term solutions.

“We’re looking at route consolidation, we’re looking at methods to reduce the need for the total number of routes, such as looking into our special needs transportation routes, and following our model of inclusion to make those routes more efficient,” Holland said.

Col. Dave Wilson, Commander of JBER and the 673rd Air Base Wing, issued a statement via press release.

“Partnering with the school district to help solve this challenge is about delivering a quality school experience to our JBER families and most importantly the students,” Wilson wrote. “I’m proud of our team and how they came together to deliver additional drivers. This truly shows the flexibility of our service members to meet the needs of our community and installation.”

The buses will be provided by ASD and all service members have to go through the same level requirements laid out by the district.

The district will switch to the second group — or “cohort” — of students on Sept. 12 who will receive transportation on buses. Approximately two-thirds of students who are eligible for district transportation are unable to ride buses for as many as six weeks at a time due to the driver shortage.

“With the understanding that this is both a systemic issue and a national issue, I have launched a third-party audit of operations to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Bryantt wrote. “This includes the possible use of a new, state-of-the-art routing software. All options remain on the table, including school start times, as the effect could free up more drivers. More to come on that as we research possibilities.”

Bryantt encouraged those interested in learning to drive school buses to visit the driver recruitment page, and asked parents who have questions to visit the transportation FAQ page for answers.

This article has been updated with additional information.