FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — The current bus driver shortage is impacting Fayetteville School District and its families. It’s causing kids to be late to be school more often.
“I understand that we have to bend, but I feel like parents are breaking we’ve bent so much,” said FPS parent, Stephanie Davis.
This is the first year that Davis’ son is going to Ramay Junior High School.
“Last year we were at Holt, which is in our neighborhood,” she said. “He walked to and from school, and it wasn’t really an issue.”
This is also the first year they’ve had to rely on FPS for transportation, which she said hasn’t been easy.
“I have a 12-year-old that I don’t feel like it’s safe to be standing out 105 minutes, not knowing when the bus is coming or not,” she said.
“We greatly appreciate the parents’ patience,” said Alan Wilbourn, spokesperson for FPS. “We try to get the information to them as quickly as we can and canceling around is a last resort.”
Parents woke up on Monday to an email saying several the district’s routes would be picking kids up an estimated 105 minutes late. Wilbourn said this is because 14 of the districts 40 bus routes didn’t have an assigned driver Monday morning. He said they had to send drivers back out two or three times to pick up those routes.
“It’s quite a jigsaw puzzle to put together everyday,” he said. “It changes every morning and every afternoon.”
Dealing with a shortage of bus drivers isn’t anything new for FPS. Wilbourn said they, along with school districts across the nation, haven’t had enough bus drivers for several years now. He said the current surge in Omicron isn’t helping the situation. He said they were supposed to have two drivers back on Monday who weren’t able to come back.
He also said they had two drivers pass away in the past two months, but he confirmed they were not COVID-related deaths. So, it’s all hands on deck right now to get the buses out.
“Right now, everyone who is in the transportation department that has the CDL license that you have to have to get drive bus, including mechanics, they’re all driving morning and afternoon,” he said.
Davis said she and her husband have to be at work everyday and are having trouble dealing with the constant changes and lack of flexibility from the district.
“I called the school to see what our options were, if he could go virtual and do the school work. And the answer was no, he can’t he has to be here or it goes against his attendance,” she said. “So then I asked if we had to be there right at 3:30 when they get at out of school or if it can be a little later, and the answer was no, there’s no adults here after 4pm.”
She turned to Facebook to see what other parents were doing, and some of the answers frustrated her. She said she got everything from transportation to school for kids is a privilege, to pulling her son from school all together for a virtual academy, to carpooling with other families.
“I know we all have different opinions, but I don’t think transportation is a privilege,” she said. “Playing sports is a privilege to me. And it’s not as simple to completely pull him out of public school and put him in a virtual academy.”
She said she’s not upset with the teachers or bus drivers, and that she understands the school district is in a tough spot right now. She just wishes it had better communication.
“What we’re doing right now is not sustainable,” she said. “I know if we can’t pick up my child, we’re going to have to not go to school.”
Davis wanted to know if the school district is considering bring in 3rd party transportation drivers or even the National Guard to help them get through this shortage. Wilbourn said, “We are exploring every option.”
He said the FPS School Board passed sign-on bonuses and increased pay for bus drivers recently. He said for anyone who is willing and able to become a bus driver, they will get you trained up. Head over to the FPS website to learn more.