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We need your thoughts on critical bus transportation solutions

4/29/2022 -- The below letter was sent to parents and staff.

Dear Parkway families and staff:

I wanted you to be aware that we continue to face a critical shortage of bus drivers to support Parkway students. Based on the number of students currently riding buses, we are short 13 drivers.

With the ongoing driver shortage, all Parkway mechanics and Transportation Department office staff are driving buses on a regular basis. In some cases, routes have to be combined, which lengthens the bus ride for students and results in some late arrivals for our students.

Many organizations and workgroups are facing similar critical employee shortages. Please know, if we had qualified applicants, we would hire them. We have the buses available, competitive salaries/benefits and the budget allocated for drivers. The bus driver shortage is an issue across the country and it’s certainly not unique to Parkway. We also have shortages in custodial services, food services, substitute teachers and maintenance and grounds workers.

Currently, 2,000 fewer students are riding the bus than there were before the start of the pandemic. Provided community health conditions continue to be positive, we anticipate many students will return to riding the bus next year. An increase in the number of riders would mean the need for more bus routes and more drivers in a time when we are already experiencing a critical shortage. We must proactively address this issue as it could impact our ability to provide some students with a ride to/from school next year.

Recently, we convened a Transportation Task Force made up of parents, staff and school leaders to problem-solve the existing bus driver shortage and the potential for an even more severe shortage of drivers in the fall.

 This group is exploring many options in the short and long-term, including:

  • Increasing the number of students on each bus and potentially having three students to a seat. Our current practice is to have a maximum of two students on each seat. This would allow us to transport more students with the existing number of drivers.

  • Expanding our elementary and/or middle school neighborhood walk zones from the current practice of .5 miles to a 1-mile walk zone. Neighborhood walk zones are areas with sidewalks that do not require students to cross a major street. This would ease the impact of the driver shortage since elementary and middle school students make up the majority of riders and routes needed to transport students each day while keeping Parkway’s walk zone well below the 3.5-miles allowed in state law.

  • Adding a fourth-tier of school start times later in the morning. This would mean some schools (likely some elementary and/or middle) would need to start later in the morning and end later in the day. This would allow the same drivers to drive more routes, decreasing the total number of drivers needed each day. These are our current school bus tiers and school start times.

  • Decreasing the number of bus stops which may increase the walking distance from home to bus stops. This shortens the drive times for bus routes which allows for more routes to be run by the same driver.

  • Increasing compensation and adjusting salary scales for bus drivers to continue our efforts to attract more applicants for our open driving positions.

We could use your help to determine the best way to move forward.

  1. First, please share your thoughts in this online exchange. None of these options are ideal. Historically, we have been very fortunate in Parkway to be able to provide more transportation services for our students than our state requires. At the same time, our current reality requires us to make some adjustments. We want families to have time to plan for any changes and we need to avoid a transportation crisis at the start of the school year.

  2. If we know how many students will be riding the bus next year, we can more accurately plan, determine the best options and problem-solve solutions. Therefore, families who need bus transportation next year will need to request it. Please know that if you do not complete the transportation request, we will not plan for your child to have a bus ride to school. Look for more information soon on how to request transportation services for the 22-23 school year.

In the meantime, we will continue our marketing efforts in attracting bus drivers and we are considering other means to attract drivers including increased compensation.

Thank you for your understanding and support. We need your help to address this need for our students and appreciate your feedback and willingness to help us plan ahead for next year.

Dr. Keith Marty