Springfield Public Schools leaders discuss bus driver shortage at board meeting

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 9:28 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Springfield Public Schools leaders discussed the impact of a major transportation cutback on Tuesday.

The Springfield Public Schools Board of Education held its first meeting since deciding to scale back bus service next month. Nearly 1,500 students across the district will soon lose a ride to school.

District leaders said the decision was difficult and even emotional. In fact, they said it became a last resort. Some parents said they understand many difficult decisions have to be made, but they still have concerns.

“The logistics of creating and maintaining bus routes are extremely difficult, that I have no doubt,” said SPS parent Chad Forster, who spoke at the board meeting.

Some Springfield Public Schools parents, like Forster, worry the new bus routes pose many challenges for them and their children.

”My child will be forced to walk approximately three miles daily when this change takes effect,” Forster said. “Other kids up to five. This while walking across a four-lane street that routinely and notoriously has speeding issues. My child would walk near eight known registered sex offenders’ homes.”

Forster also said he was worried about his child having to walk in poorly lit areas during dark hours.

Starting on Nov. 8, elementary and K-8 school students must live 2 miles or more from school. Middle and high school students must live 2.5 miles or more from school to be eligible to ride the bus.

SPS leaders said this comes amid a national bus driver shortage.

”The competitive job market and some of the unique circumstances associated with the pandemic have all aligned to make this situation unsustainable,” SPS Chief Communications Officer Stephen Hall said. “We are having to make this decision as a last resort. And we can only restore the bus service when the workforce shortage adjusts itself.”

This comes after SPS adapted school hours and changed its bus service to a new method this fall. District leaders said the change actually helped combat the shortage.

“That adjusted model is actually helping us with the school bus driver shortage,” Hall said. “Had we maintained the two-tiered model from last year, we would be in a much worse situation in regard to the bus driver shortage. We have significantly reduced the need for bus drivers, but we’re still short. So had we not made the change this year we would have had to make more significant cuts to transportation and we would’ve likely had to have done that at the beginning of the school year.”

The district said it still will bus more students than prior years.

”Even with the reduction we have to make on Nov. 8, we will still be busing 500 more students than we did last year,” Hall said. “So the process of adjusting our routes to expand transportation for students is working. We are still providing more transportation than we have in previous years.”

Regardless some parents said they want the district to re-think the decision.

”Please keep child safety our number one priority,” Forster said. “My question to you, does this policy truly achieve that?”

District leaders said SPS is experiencing many other employee shortages as well. Right now officials said the district has 44 vacant food service positions, 16 vacant lunchroom aide positions, 35 vacant custodial positions, 13 bus aide vacancies, and 32 paraprofessional vacancies.

In the meantime, SPS leaders said they are trying to help affected families. The district will offer free city bus passes to eligible students, and school leaders can also help connect families to other carpools.

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