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Washington Township schools grapple with bus delays after a third of drivers call off

Posted at 2:40 PM, Sep 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-08 06:19:51-04

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — Washington Township schools have asked parents to find alternatives to its buses after approximately one-third of drivers called off work Wednesday.

In a letter to parents, the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township said morning and afternoon bus routes were impacted by the shortage.

It also means after-school activity late bus runs won't be available Wednesday.

"All families are encouraged to find alternative transportation to school if possible to avoid the potential delays due to bus driver shortage," the letter, which was sent about 6:46 a.m., states.

Parents say this isn't the first time this has happened this week.

“We have experienced the bus running almost every week since we have been in the district so you are used to it so you can kind of plan accordingly,” Shawnta Barnes said.

Shawnta Barnes says her twin boys attend Westlane Middle School. She says that she is frustrated with the lack of consistency from the bus routes.

“It’s a toss-up, waiting to see if the bus is going to come. If it comes then its late and then our kids are getting a late start to their education,” Barnes added.

Schools encouraged parents and students to use Here Comes The Bus, a school bus GPS tracking app, or the ParentSquare school communication app, for updates.

The letter also states that schools may issue additional guidance to families in the afternoon.

"District administration and Transportation staff are currently busy supporting getting students to and from school safely and efficiently in light of the current high volume of absences in bus drivers," said MSD of Washington Township Communications Coordinator Ellen Rogers in an email to WRTV.

Rogers also referred WRTV to an address to the community by Superintendent Nikki Woodson which was posted Tuesday on YouTube.

"I know many of you continue to be frustrated with the service you are experiencing with our transportation department. As a school district, this is not how we wanted to begin the school year — certainly not indicative of the service that we want to offer our families. We are currently working on several areas of improvement," Woodson said in the video, which is unlisted.

Woodson specifically acknowledged the fact that many drivers called off work.

"Unfortunately, this afternoon, an even larger number of bus drivers called off work, causing further impact to regular routes and some afternoon school bus services to be canceled," she said. "As shared publicly throughout last school year, a complete overhaul of our routing system was needed to create efficiencies regardless of what our school hours are. Unfortunately, the work done prior to the start of the school year did not result in optimal efficiencies, leading to the frustration of families and school building personnel.

In an email to parents sent Wednesday night, the district said the high volume of driver absences for two consecutive days, combined with an already-existing labor shortage, put its bussing system in a "critical situation."

On Tuesday, a total of 11 bus drivers, or about 12% of driving staff, called off work. And on Wednesday, 27 bus drivers, or 28% of the staff, called off. There are currently 18 unfilled driver positions, according to the email.

The email also says the drivers who did come to work took on uncovered routes.

"Like many other school districts in the state and across the country, the District continues to experience a shortage of bus drivers and key staff. Even after record-high raises over the past two years, competitive wages and bonuses, offering incentive packages, and covering all training fees, the District is still unable to fill all driver positions. These positions are critical to smooth operations, and until they are filled, transportation services will continue to be impacted," the email states.

WRTV Reporter Adam Schumes contributed to this report.