Anchorage School District to split students into cohorts use a rotating bus schedule

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – The Anchorage School District is transitioning to a rotating schedule for student bus transportation and is hoping an aggressive recruiting strategy can help attract enough drivers.

At a news conference Wednesday at district headquarters, Superintendent Jharrett Bryant emphasized the dire nature of the shortage of over 70 drivers needed to transport all ASD students. Assistant Superintendent Mark Stock said about 20,000 students would be eligible to drive buses, but the district could only serve 7,000 daily. The parents of about 14,000 students will have to negotiate their own transport to and from school before school starts next Thursday.

“While we continue to make strides in retaining more employees and hiring new bus drivers, the situation is not improving fast enough,” Bryantt said. “This requires district-wide adjustments to the transport service. This will happen concurrently with continued hiring and work to restore the level of service that our families have come to expect in their school system. The district faces a serious shortage of bus drivers.”

The district transitions to a nine-week, three-cohort rotation schedule. Each cohort of almost 7,000 students can drive buses for three consecutive weeks and then must organize their own transport to school for the other six weeks. The new schedule, which will place students into one of the three cohorts, will be released at 5 p.m. on August 13

“This will impact all general education students who are eligible for transport. Our students who have special education, bus routes or IEP due to their individual educational plan will not be affected. These legal requirements for the transportation of students with needs will remain as they have been 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 now. Parents can carpool and many families have already taken their children to school. We would encourage them to keep trying to help their friends and neighbors.”

District maintenance and operations director Rob Holland said the district is offering a $2,500 first-semester bonus to both existing drivers and new drivers. Holland said the district’s three-week training course for drivers to earn their commercial driver’s license — a requirement of the Department of Transportation and public agencies to drive a school bus — is the shortest training course in Anchorage.

Stock noted the district was short of 76 drivers last week, but has since hired five more and another 14 are currently in training. Stock called the rotating bus schedule a “short-term solution,” but noted that the district plans to maintain the rotating schedule throughout the school year unless enough drivers can be hired to make up for the shortage.

Stock also noted that the district has suspended parking fees at Anchorage high schools and is expanding the fuel card program for needy families. Stock said fuel cards were made available last year, but only about half were used by families.

“Last year we were able to keep bus services running in several, if not many, of our schools where the poverty rate is higher,” Stock said. “But this year the shortage is so great that we just can’t do it. We had to distribute it.”

Stock pointed out that a nationwide survey by a national transportation director found that 90% of US school districts had a driver shortage, and 30% described the shortage as “severe.” Families with additional questions can visit the county’s transportation website.

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