Lack of drivers jeopardizing school busing

Could school bus routes turn into school pickup points?

That’s the question facing Perkins County Schools Superintendent Phillip Piquet and his school board over the next nine to 16 months.

Piquet said two of the five route drivers have already told him when their current bus license expires, they don’t plan to renew it. 

“We have two drivers, possibly three, within the next wo years, this year or next, who may not be driving,” he said.

The problem for Piquet is finding people who want to drive a school bus and have the time to do it. 

Right now, the school runs five bus routes that stretches south of Venango east to Elsie. 

If Piquet is unable to find new drivers, those five routes will likely turn into three feeder routes, with parents having to get students to specified pickup points. 

“I know I have three drivers for sure to run those routes,” he said.

Piquet said that would mean one bus picking up students at Venango and Brandon; another picking up students in Elsie and Madrid; and a third bus going north of Grant to pick up students at specified points. 

One advantage to pickup points would mean some students could get an extra 30 minutes of sleep.

He doesn’t want any students to have to get on the bus before 6:30 a.m. With pickup points, he estimated students in Venango and Elsie would start getting on around 7 a.m.

While that’s an option, he said his focus continues to be finding drivers for the current five routes.

Busing not Required

By law, the school district is not obligated to provide busing to get students to school. But the district has chosen to do so at least the last 60 years or so.

If the district does not provide busing, then it must pay each family mileage to get their kids to and from school. 

That’s only applicable if the family lives more than 3 miles from the school or drop off point. 

At the current IRS rate, that’s $0.58 per mile. 

Piquet said he has not yet run the numbers to see how the cost for busing versus milage compares.

At this point, no consideration is being given to eliminate busing all together, he said. Instead, finding drivers remains his main objective.

Paid training and licensing

Piquet said the school will pay for the training class, the required physical and provide a bus to practice with and to use for the driving test. 

There’s a system in place to license bus drivers—we just need to find drivers, he said.

It’s a commitment, he noted, having to be available both in the morning and afternoon for each of the 175 school days.

Presently, the school pays route drivers $140 per day. The drivers become school employees, which qualifies them to participate in the school’s retirement system.

Drivers don’t work enough hours to qualify for a single health insurance plan, though.

Piquet said they need substitute drivers as well, along with activities bus drivers to takes students to sporting and other extra-curricular events.

The cost of a large capacity bus in the range of $150,000 or more, Piquet said. Smaller capacity buses run in the $80,000 neighborhood.

The board has been judicious in purchasing new buses. The newest bus, A 47 passenger which is handicapped accessible, was purchased in 2011. 

The school also owns a smaller, handicapped accessible bus. 

He said they’ve looked at using Suburbans but said they can buy a smaller 18-passenger bus for nearly the same money, depending on options. 

One question he said he often fields about buses is why they use such big routes buses that aren’t very full. Simply, it’s because that’s what the district has. 

Route buses have diesel engines so it’s likely the chassis will start having problems long before the engines, he noted.

Piquet urged anyway interesting in becoming a bus driver to contact him at the school. 

Parent can now purchase their own  football helmets

During this month’s board meeting Dec. 17, board members approved letting parents purchase their own football helmet for their child. 

Until now, parents have not been allowed to purchase their own helmet.

 

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