Student busing changing to feeder routes

Lack of drivers forced issue

Short of some miraculous solution, the days of the school bus pulling up to a student’s front door have come to an end at Perkins County Schools.

Why? A shortage of drivers.

PCS Superintendent Phillip Picquet said in all likelihood, the change will take effect this school year. 

He said parents of students on bus routes will receive a letter explaining the situation and how the new system will work. 

The move will also be on the agenda for discussion and approval at the school board’s July 20 meeting.

Picquet said the plan calls for running three pickup routes—one east with stops in Elsie and Madrid; one west with stops in Venango and Brandon; and one north. 

He said they continue to work out the finer points of the plan, such as exact pickup points.

He thinks Trinity Lutheran Church would be a logical site for the north pickup point but hasn’t confirmed the use of their parking area with church elders yet. 

Nebraska schools are not required by law to provide busing for rural students. However, if they don’t, they are required to pay mileage to student households who live more than three miles from school. 

The mileage rule also applies when a school uses feeder routes. Picquet said any student household more than three miles from the pickup points will be paid mileage at the current IRS rate. 

He’s estimated it will cost the district about $10,000 in mileage payments for the year.

The plan will reduce wear-and-tear and increase the life of the current bus fleet. It could also reduce the number of buses the school has to buy down the road.

That’s something the transportation committee will be looking at closer in developing a plan for the next five to 10 years, Picquet said. 

Lingering situation

Picquet knows this won’t be a popular move but without more route drivers, it’s a better alternative than ending busing altogether. 

This situation hasn’t developed overnight. Picquet said they’ve faced driver shortages for the past several years but have been able to keep this solution on the back burner.

Finding new drivers continues to get harder. Not everyone has a schedule where they can drive bus early in the morning and then turn around and do it again seven hours later, he said. “I get it.”

He said some people have expressed interest in driving but it never gets to the point where they will commit.

COVID-19 complicates things as well. He noted two-thirds of the current drivers fall into the high-risk category if they contract the virus.

Picquet said they have large enough buses to accommodate all the possible students on the feeder routes. 

The Elsie-Madrid route could have as many as 40 kids if all eligible students rode. He said they have  47- and 60-passenger buses available for that route.

He realizes and understands some parents may be uncomfortable, due to COVID-19, putting their child on a loaded bus. 

Even if only one student was allowed per seat, they still wouldn’t be six feet apart, Picquet said. Putting one student in every other seat is not feasible either, he added.

One benefit of the feeder routes is that students will spend less time on the bus. Students who were at the beginning of routes won’t have to get on as early either. 

Change is difficult, Picquet noted, but feels this is the best solution given the current situation.

 

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