School districts across the US have been suffering nationwide incidents of bus driver shortages, Sammamish schools included. Issaquah School District (ISD) and Lake Washington School District (LWSD) have struggled to maintain routes since before the pandemic, but with pandemic tensions easing, they are exploring ways to expand and stabilize their workforce.
Throughout the driver shortage, ISD and LWSD have had to cancel or rearrange routes, sometimes with very little notice to families.
“I ride the bus nearly every day, and it’s late very frequently. School starts at 8:00 a.m. for me, but my bus doesn’t arrive at school until several minutes after,” said 17-year-old Skyline High School junior Tanisha Kshirsagar. “My teacher marks me tardy even though I tell her it was because of my bus, and I have to contact the attendance office and fix it every time.”
LWSD currently lacks substitute drivers, so on days when regular bus drivers are not available, as many as two routes are temporarily eliminated.
LWSD has informed their community that cancellations will result in some parents possibly needing to provide transportation to and from school.
During the 2021-22 school year, the ISD driver shortage worsened, resulting in eliminated or consolidated stops. As a result of the shortage, ISD also could no longer provide out-of-district transportation and instead had to turn to outside resources, such as HopSkipDrive, a vehicle-for-hire service that specializes in providing transportation for children.
Then, when the 2022-23 school year brought an influx of student riders, ISD was able to handle the increased demand by reworking routes based on the distribution of student population throughout the community, albeit with some students sitting three to a seat at times.
The ISD transportation department is currently anticipating a new challenge.
“We have a few drivers who will be leaving for a variety of reasons in January,” said Coleen Xaudaro, ISD’s director of transportation.
The anticipated leave of several drivers adds more stress to a fragile situation.
Both districts are working hard to bolster driver recruitment. In addition to traditional mailers and open houses, ISD is leveraging community events to raise awareness and attract applicants. In Oct. 2022, ISD participated in a local scarecrow-building contest.
“For that event, we built a ‘Ms. Frizzle’ scarecrow modeled after the [bus driver for the classic children’s] show ‘Magic School Bus,’ inviting those who saw the scarecrow to ‘come drive with us,’” said Xaudaro.
LWSD is considering contracted carriers to help meet transportation needs.
“The district continues to actively recruit for substitute bus drivers while exploring opportunities with contracted carriers to provide additional support,” said Dana Chandler, LWSD’s director of transportation.
LWSD and ISD have also positioned bus driving as an appealing part-time job, offering benefits, flexibility, training, and competitive pay in order to attract prospective drivers.
Despite the challenges of the bus driver shortage, Xaudaro says ISD is “very proud of our whole Transportation team for the work they have done in the past several years” ensuring all ISD buses continue to pass inspections and that buses remain safe for students and staff.