The Anchorage School District said Friday that its rotating bus service suspensions will continue in October as efforts to overcome a driver shortage are taking longer than district officials said they initially expected.
That means on Monday, a new swath of students will be without service. Since there aren’t enough drivers to cover each route, the district has been rotating its bus service to three different groups of students since the start of the school year.
While officials had earlier hoped to restore most bus service by October, the district was still short drivers Friday. The district currently has 172 drivers of the roughly 228 needed.
“We were hopeful to be within arm’s reach of an end to the cohort system by October,” Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt said in an email to families Friday. “There will unfortunately be a setback in this trajectory. This is a delay but not a defeat.”
District officials said they’re making progress. ASD has been adding drivers back into the mix, which means they’ve been able to permanently restore service to more and more routes, said Rob Holland, acting chief operating officer with the school district.
The district considered changing how the busing rotation works, perhaps shifting to two groups instead of three, but found that permanently adding serviced routes was more efficient.
“We did expect to get more employees quicker — tourism did cause some delays,” Holland said.
Anchorage’s “late and robust tourism season” has meant a group of drivers expected to start in September have yet to begin, though the district anticipates some coming back in the next several weeks, Holland said.
Nine drivers are taking required tests and will be ready to work in five to 10 business days, and there are 30 additional trainees, Holland said.
When the shortage began, the district could provide rides to only a third of eligible riders at once. Now, about half of the students can receive rides. Roughly 11,600 riders of about 25,300 will have bus service as of Monday, including students on the south side of the district as well as in Eagle River and Chugiak who will be receiving bus service for the first time this school year.
Closed contract negotiations between the school district and the bus drivers union, Teamsters Local 959, are still ongoing, Holland said.
Bartlett, Service, Bettye Davis East, West and South high schools, as well as Begich, Goldenview, Romig, Hanshew and Wendler middle schools, are expected to have increased traffic during pickup and drop-off times over the next three weeks, school district officials said.