FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — 23 Fort Wayne Community Schools bus drivers called off of work on Friday, leaving executives scrambling to get kids to school, according to the district’s Public Information Officer Krista Stockman.
Stockman said the district regularly deals with busses running late due to a driver shortage, but Friday’s large amount of call-offs left the district extremely short-handed, especially in the northern portion of Fort Wayne.
There were numerous late pickups, and although district leaders went out and drove every route to make sure there weren’t any kids standing at the curb waiting, some did end up missing school, according to Stockman.
She said parents of any student who had to miss school Friday because their bus never came could call and have it marked as an excused absence.
“That is certainly not the kind of service we want to provide,” Stockman said. Our transportation department has been working to make sure that all of those routes are covered this afternoon. So, we will have, for those students, busses on the way home.”
Stockman said they had to get creative to make sure everyone has a ride home Friday afternoon, and some of the schools did their part to help.
Jefferson Middle School students all called parents and arranged to get a ride home. Stockman said that freed up drivers for those routes to cover other routes that didn’t previously have a bus lined up for dropoffs.
While they made it through the day, Stockman said the shortage they’ve dealt with for years has been a struggle. She says they’re offering signing bonuses, retention bonuses, and full benefits for their open positions.
She said when drivers agree to join on, she generally finds that they enjoy all the perks that come with the position.
“They find that they really love it. They love the work with the children,” Stockman said.
In the meantime, the shortage is causing the district to live within their means. One area Stockman said FWCS hopes to improve is its communication with parents regarding late busses.
“We know that’s a weakness in our system. So, what we’re looking at is can we do something more automated? We’re looking at some different software options, and hopefully we’ll have something in place by next year so that we don’t have to rely on so many manual steps to get that updated on our website and so that parents don’t have to go to the website and look and see ‘is my bus late,'” Stockman said.
Currently, drivers radio in when they are behind, which gets forwarded to the district office, and then that information is placed on their website.
Stockman said right now is a natural time to look at potential changes as longtime transportation director Frank Jackson is headed to retirement and Renee Dawson is set to take over.
Stockman said Dawson started several weeks ago and is training with Jackson for the remainder of the school year.