“We just didn’t realize how bad this was going to be until we got closer to the start of the school year,” DSISD Communication Specialist Blake Barington said.
DSISD needs 12 bus drivers and four bus monitors to help cover all its routes, he said.
One of the primary issues the school district is facing is it takes almost two months to hire a bus driver. According to Barington, it can take anywhere from six to eight weeks to complete the onboarding process.
He said the district is looking into substitute drivers as it vets full-time candidates over the next few months.
In the meantime, the school’s priority has been the larger, denser areas that require a longer drive to school.
“We want the kids to get to school,” Barington said. “So, if it takes 30-45 minutes for a student to get to school, we want to be sure we are going out to those areas.”
In an email sent out to parents, DSISD Superintendent Holly Morris-Kuentz said the district will be implementing no-service zones, or NSZs, for each campus.
“These NSZs are focused on the routes that are closest to each campus. Students who live in the NSZ for a specific campus will not be eligible for district-provided transportation,” she said in the email. “It is important to note that NSZs vary by campus. For instance, an address may be in an NSZ for an elementary campus but still have service available for the middle or high school due to distance from a particular campus.”
Barington said the need for drivers is more significant than in previous years. Last year, he said, the district was short on drivers, but some of the full-time drivers were able to cover extra stops. In addition, volunteers such as DSISD Director of Transportation Pam Swanks and Assistant Director Brittany Johnson were helping by driving children to and from school as well.
“Unfortunately, with the current need, that just wasn’t sustainable long term,” Barington said.
According to a report from DSISD, the district is expecting an enrollment increase of about 500 students among its high school, two middle schools and five elementary schools. This is an 18.34% growth over last year with a projected enrollment of approximately 8,539 students.
What this means, according to Barington, is DSISD is still providing transportation service for about the same number of students even after implementing no-service zones for each campus.
The district's official enrollment for the school year will be taken in late October.
For now, many people have been stepping up and offering carpool services, Barington said.
“We know how frustrating this can be for parents, especially in homes with both parents working, and we really appreciate everyone who has been helping out,” Barington said.
Anyone interested in applying to be a bus driver for DSISD is encouraged to apply on the district website. Applications must be at least age 18 and eligible for a valid Texas commercial driver’s license (Class B) with Passenger (P) and School Bus (S) endorsements.