A shortage of drivers is forcing the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District to implement rolling transportation cancellations starting Tuesday, the district announced this week.
Superintendent Randy Trani said in a letter to parents Friday that the district’s school bus contractor, Durham School Services, will not have enough drivers to run all its regular routes in the district’s core area. Durham informed the district of this shortage on Thursday, Trani wrote.
The “unexpected driver shortage” will require rolling bus route cancellations for the beginning of the school year, starting Tuesday, Trani said in the letter. He said parents will get an update about the situation by Aug. 26.
In the meantime, parents can find out how the cancellations will affect their children’s routes on the school district’s website. The rolling cancellations are largely separated by school region, with a different set of bus routes suspended each day of the week. District spokesperson Jillian Morrissey explained Friday that the district uses double busing, where secondary school students get transported first and those same buses turn around to transport younger students to schools in the same area.
The rolling cancellations were grouped by certain secondary schools and their surrounding “feeder” schools, Morrissey said. For example, one day each week, the cancellations will target Palmer High School and the feeder schools around it.
The cancellations won’t affect any special education routes, Trani said in Friday’s letter.
The district’s bus service contractor attributed the local shortage to a bus driver shortage being experienced nationwide, as well as “competition with tour bus companies,” Trani wrote.
The announcement comes on the heels of the Anchorage School District releasing more information about its plan to suspend bus routes for several weeks at a time for most of its students. The Anchorage district is also facing a severe driver shortage, and is short about 70 drivers.
Mat-Su is currently short a little over 20 drivers, Morrissey said. She noted that the service contractor Durham is sending drivers from its own network up from the Lower 48 to help alleviate that shortage. The district expects those drivers to arrive for the start of the school year, and they’ll be able to start driving as soon as they arrive, Morrissey said.
Trani said all absences will be excused for students who aren’t able to get to school due to the bus cancellations.
Additionally, shuttles that take kids from boundary schools to other locations like Career and Tech High School and Mat-Su College will be canceled on the same day that buses are canceled at the boundary school. For example, there will be no shuttle leaving from Palmer High School on the day that regular bus service is canceled at Palmer, the letter said.
The Mat-Su school district also implemented bus cancellations and dealt with a shortage of drivers last fall, but under a different service contractor. That shortage was attributed in part to the spread of COVID-19.