The Anchorage School District on Friday shared the specifics of its limited bus service with families as it grapples with a severe shortage of drivers, leaving many students without transportation to school for weeks at a time on a rotating basis.
With just days to go before the first day of classes next week, families can now see when the bus route suspensions will affect their students.
The Anchorage School District divided students into three groups. Each group will receive bus service on a rotating basis for three weeks, before bus service for that group is suspended for six weeks.
Under the school district’s plan, the first group (Bus Nos. 1-38), will have service at the start of the school year from Aug. 18 to Sept. 9. Up next for bus service is the second group (Bus Nos. 39-77) with service from Sept. 12 to 30. The third group (Bus Nos. 78-116) will receive school bus service from Oct. 3 to 20.
That means in some cases, students might not be able to take a bus to school for another month and a half.
That’s the case for Margaret Hannah and her kids, who live in the Chugiak/Eagle River area and won’t receive school bus service until early October. Hannah, an elementary school art teacher, has to be at work before her kids can be dropped off and works later than their pick-up times.
“Honestly, I’m panicking,” Hannah said after looking at the bus route schedule Friday.
She has a sixth grader, a fifth grader and a second grader at ASD, and they live too far from school to walk. Hannah and her boyfriend — who both work full time — have to get their children to a combined five different schools every day.
Hannah planned to keep her children home for the first two days of school on Thursday and Friday next week, in hopes she can figure something out by the following Monday.
“My mind is spinning,” Hannah said. “It’s making me consider putting my kids in their virtual school and just schooling them myself. I don’t know what I would do financially, but as far as their education goes, at least I know they would get what they need.”
Some school bus routes were condensed, and according to the district’s FAQ page, the bus service groups aren’t limited by school. That means a particular school might have students in more than one group who will be receiving bus service at different times.
The district has 113 drivers available for the 113 special education routes but only 45 drivers are available to cover the 116 routes among general education students, according to district spokesperson Lisa Miller.
Special education students will still receive continuous service.
In an email to families, superintendent Jharrett Bryantt wrote that more applicants had emerged for bus driver positions with the school district, and there are more drivers in training.
“Please know we are not leaving any stone unturned to fix this problem,” Bryantt wrote. “I understand the rotating bus route service is a burden on families. Our goal is to stand down the bus route rotations as soon as we are able. This is a temporary solution.”
District officials, in announcing the rotating bus route suspensions earlier this week, said they only had enough drivers to provide bus service to 7,000 of the 20,000 students in the district who are eligible. The district is short about 70 bus drivers, and obtaining a commercial driver’s license takes three weeks of training.
Officials considered alternatives to bus route suspensions, like double drop-offs and limiting service to certain schools, but that created the potential for late arrival and left too many people without bus service, the district said on its website.
ASD is exploring the possibility of shifting drop-off and pick-up times to better accommodate parents, Miller said.
The school district said it’s also working to provide gas cards, which would be distributed by schools, to families who need additional support. Parking fees for high school students will be waived, and officials are working on making city bus passes available to middle and high school students, according to the district.
ASD said families can view their child’s bus information for the beginning of the school year at Q ParentConnect.
The bus driver shortage is also affecting operations at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, which is suspending bus routes on a rolling basis starting Tuesday.