Facing severe understaffing of bus drivers that has resulted in route consolidations and cancellations, the Douglas County School District is working to raise pay and hire a recruiter to ease bussing challenges.
In a March 7 presentation to the board of education, Chief Operations Officer Rich Cosgrove said just 60% of bus driver positions are currently filled, in large part because of a national bus driver shortage, but also because of a lack of competitive pay.
Douglas County School District starts bus drivers at $19.60 per hour, whereas surrounding districts start drivers anywhere from $21.70 in Jefferson County School District up to $24.40 in Denver Public Schools.
“A lack of competitive pay is really, really hurting us,” Superintendent Erin Kane said, calling transportation a “pain point” in the district this year.
Just like with teacher pay, Kane said the district needs a mill levy to close the competitive pay gap. Cosgrove agreed that raising pay would go a long way to solving the shortage.
Despite being understaffed, Cosgrove said the district has been able to run 98% of its bus routes so far this year. Still, cancellations are extremely frustrating for families, he said.
“We make every effort to cover routes,” he said. “On any given day, we are four to five (employees) short, so what that means is central staff is being a (transportation education assistant) or running that route.”
When route cancellations do happen, special education routes and routes that serve low-income families are prioritized.
“We have students that when we cancel their routes, they don’t go to school, they don’t have another way to get to school, so they stay home and they’re not learning,” Kane said. “That is a big violation of the equitable access to learning.”
The district has also consolidated routes from 173 during the 2020-21 school year to 120 this year, which Cosgrove said puts them at capacity.
Cosgrove said the district is negotiating with the Amalgamated Transportation Union of Douglas County to increase pay, as well as requesting more flexibility in drivers’ schedules for route changes.
“We have very collaborative and productive negotiations underway with the ATU,” he said.
On top of union negotiations, Cosgrove said the district should invest in a recruiter for transportation staff, improve advertising and marketing, and enhance employee appreciation efforts.
All of the board members agreed that the district needs to invest in its transportation staffing and thanked the district's bus drivers for all of their efforts.