Metro school districts eye changes to address bus driver shortage

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- School districts nationwide are struggling to find enough bus drivers, and that's forcing them to eye changes to how they operate.

Park Hill Schools in Kansas City's Northland continue to struggle with how to get kids to class without enough bus drivers to go around.

"What that ends up meaning is that we have lapses in service," said Nicole Kirby, Park Hill spokesperson.

Last year, Park Hill eliminated some bus routes and consolidated others to help. It's also offered extra opportunities to anyone wanting to make part-time busing into a full-time job with benefits.

But it hasn't been enough.

So the district's now looking to change start and end times of the school day, pushing the drivers it does have to bus more kids.

"So the same drivers and buses go around and pick up kids, then they have time to start a new route and go pick up more kids and then they have time to run a third route," Kirby said. "Right now they're only doing two of those tiers. We need to add a third to be able to do this with the bus drivers we have available to us."

Some worry it will force more families into needing costly child care, and the district already struggles to staff its before- and after-school care program.

Parents also wish they had more than the 10 days the district's offering to give input.

"I think that there's a solution, but I think we're not going to arrive at a solution that's best for the students, that's best for families, that's best for the community unless we involve everybody in that conversation," parent Roxsen Koch said. "And we can't rush this decision."

Park Hill isn't alone.

Bus driver shortages pushed Lee's Summit to make school schedule tweaks last year.

Baldwin City's now forcing more of its students to walk or find a ride.

As a way to recruit and retain drivers, the Kansas legislature is considering a measure that would allow drivers to get unemployment in the summer months, something that's already available to some other contracted school workers.

Park Hill said the driver shortage isn't improving, and something's got to be done now to address it.

"These are all of our kids, and we take that as our responsibility in Park Hill to do something about it," Kirby said.

Some bus companies that districts contract with have also been boosting pay and offering signing bonuses in hopes to get more drivers behind the wheel.

The public can offer input on the proposed changes in Park Hill Schools here through April 19.  The school board is expected to vote on the issue at its April 25 meeting.

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