School district postpones start date due to bus driver shortage

Oregon

Many districts are consolidating bus routes to keep up with demand despite a shortage of drivers

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A local school district has pushed its start date back because of a lack of bus drivers.

Following the COVID-19-related death of one of its transportation department employees and subsequent quarantine of other employees, the Vernonia School District is currently lacking an adequate amount of bus drivers. Because of this, the beginning of the district’s new school year has been postponed by two weeks.

Instead of heading back to classrooms on September 7, all K-12 students will now return on September 20. Breakfast and lunches will be available for families to pick up at school each day until then.

School athletics are still in session despite the school start date. However, the district said the volleyball team did return two positive COVID-19 tests — all volleyball activities will be postponed until quarantining is no longer necessary.

In a Facebook post, Vernonia School District Superintendent Aaron Miller apologized to families for the late notice and the resulting hardships. Miller added that an employee in the transportation department died of COVID-19 and others had been placed in quarantine.

“Postponing the start of school is not something we take lightly, but as you have heard, has become a necessary step,” Miller wrote. “Thank you for your grace and understanding.”

Schools throughout the region are struggling to get kids to school between the bus driver shortage and logistical challenges brought on by the pandemic. A parent in the Vancouver school district said their daughter’s bus was late Wednesday morning and the school isn’t designed for parent drop-offs so they waited an hour in line to get their child to school.

Vancouver Public Schools confirmed the delays on Wednesday morning saying, “The delay of the Skyview High School bus was 30 minutes. The bus arrived at school at 7:30 a.m. It typically would arrive at 7 a.m. — plus a route at Chinook Elementary that was picked up by two other buses.”

Vancouver Public Schools said it is also struggling to hire bus drivers.

A recent survey by School Bus Fleet found about half of respondents categorized their bus driver shortage as “severe” or “desperate.”

Other schools have seen staggering wait times at bus stops. The Lake Oswego School District sent a message to parents on Tuesday that read, “Please be prepared for bus delays of 50-60 minutes or longer tomorrow. STA serving LOSD is down 7 drivers. We are problem solving.”

The Beaverton School District is short 20 bus drivers this year. The district has consolidated bus routes, put more kids on buses and routes are now longer. Beaverton Transportation Administrator Craig Beaver said the pandemic is definitely worsening the longtime bus driver shortage.

“A lot of folks were displaced because of COVID. Their lives changed. They were forced to move to other places, certainly from an economic standpoint that had a deep impact. And so I think what we’re really seeing, we’re seeing a slower applicant pool,” said Beaver.

Anyone interested in becoming a bus driver for the Beaverton School District can apply online or contact the district at 503.356.4220 or email trans-applicants@beaverton.k12.or.us to learn more.

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Portland Public Schools has also consolidated routes to continue providing service to all schools. PPS is training new drivers daily to fill the open positions as quickly as possible and has been able to hire more prospective drivers this week but it can take up to a month to complete the training.

School districts said the first week of school is always hectic with heavier traffic as people get back into the swing of things and the struggle to hire bus drivers won’t be resolved immediately.

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