WENATCHEE — Transportation challenges are plaguing the Wenatchee School District which this week asked parents to consider finding another way for their bus-riding students to get to school.
A district notice went out to parents this week telling them “the transportation department is experiencing a significant strain of resources.”
“Things are getting smoother” after a full week with elementary and secondary students in the hybrid schedule, said Jenny Lagadinos, district transportation director. “We are still problem-solving how to balance increased ridership on some routes without adding any new ones [routes]. We simply don’t have the drivers.”
The district has increased its daily routes with the return of all students to school for hybrid instruction, said Diana Haglund, district spokesperson.
The hybrid schedule does require the district to do two different routes — one in the morning for the morning group to get them to and from school and then again in the afternoon to get those students to and from school.
That is compounded a shortage of drivers. The district tends to have a driver shortage going into a school year, but, but it especially bad this year in part by some drivers choosing not to return due to pandemic medical concerns, she said.
“We are on the razor’s edge in terms of our staffing and having enough drivers and substitutes. At this point in time, we’re pulling in everyone who is credentialed to drive,” Haglund said. “That might mean our transportation director, our router, our dispatcher and our mechanics. They are all stepping in to make we can safely transport students to and from school.”
Several new drivers are in training but the transportation staff qualified to train them are all driving buses which resulted in a slower training pace. Once the new drivers are fully trained, they’ll add capacity to the fleet, Lagadinos said.
But the district will still need more drivers, Haglund said.
“We’re doubling down our efforts to do more recruitment. We need more substitutes. People get sick. They take vacations. Things happen in life. We’re always in need of substitute drivers,” Haglund said.
The message out to parents this week, Haglund said, asked parents to consider having the child walk or bike to school or to simply drive the child to school.
“Another really great option is Link Transit. We have such a great partnership with them. Link really came to us early. They are providing free rides for anybody in the community including students,” Haglund said. “If you do have a student transitioning to hybrid and you need a ride to school, Link is here to support you.”
Those interested in driving a school bus WSD, go to wenatcheeschools.org/transportation or call 509-662-6168.