Public schools in Savannah-Chatham County will not be able to transport the 25,000 students this fall who rely on the district bus system.
The reason? The district cannot attract enough bus drivers due to growing demand and increased benefits offered by other commercial transportation and logistics companies in the Savannah area, officials said. The flow.
“We have other companies or transportation industries in our area that are able to attract certain members of our team or individuals when they offer them different incentives,” said Tammy Perkins, senior director of special education / training in the transport department of the SCCPSS.
There are currently 217 drivers employed by the district, but the organization needs 290-300 drivers to accommodate all students in a typical year.
In Chatham County public schools and school districts across the state, the issue of transportation was an impending challenge long before the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts said. Now, in the post-pandemic economic rebound, tensions are emerging.
Over the past 20 years, public school budgets have not increased for school transportation due to rising costs of diesel fuel for buses, healthcare for drivers, or the growing number of students with need this service, according to Stephen Owens, political analyst Georgian Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI)
For example, on a given day in North Georgia, up to 20% of buses may not start due to lack of service. Drivers cannot turn on the heat on some school buses in the winter for the same reason, he said. In the past, drivers have also complained about not being paid for the hours between picking up students in the morning and dropping them off in the afternoon.
Perkins says the Savannah-Chatham District has approved a $ 2 an hour hike to try to attract more bus drivers to the district, but for now, schoolchildren and parents will bear the brunt of the hardships. consequences of years of neglect in school budgets for transport.
The district is implementing a plan to prioritize students into three tiers, an attempt to accommodate those most in need of transportation to make the most of a non-ideal situation, officials said.
First priority will be given to students with disabilities who are in formal Individualized Education Program (IEP) and 504 plans. McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act students, or non-housed students receiving federal assistance, will also be part of the first level. priority. Perkins says she is confident there will be enough space to accommodate students in these groups.
Second priority will be given to elementary and kindergarten to grade 8 students in zoned neighborhoods, and final priority will be given to high school and high school students in zoned neighborhoods.
Short parent registration window
Students will not be automatically selected based on their priority level or needs. Parents will need to register through an online portal that will be active from July 9 to 15.
Parents will need digital access to register a child for the bus service, but the district is working to ensure that all parents have the information they need, both by email and by phone, according to Perkins.
“Email plays an important role in disseminating information. We also have our phone calls going out so there will be ways to reach those parents “who may have limited digital access,” she said.
When asked if the school district had any recommendations or resources for excluded students, Perkins hoped more resources would be available in the coming weeks.
The shortage may not be an isolated problem
Owens, the analyst, says the school district’s announcement of the bus driver shortage is the first he’s heard of in the state, but he doesn’t think the county will be the only one facing the this issue.
“I think there are a lot of stories out there about this part of public education that everyone relies on but that we don’t take seriously and pay for it in a way. which will allow districts, especially poorer districts to rethink it, ”he said.
Savannah-Chatham schools will reassess the transportation policy at the end of the fall term, according to Perkins and the school district statement.
COVID security measures continue
Improved COVID-19 protocols will likely remain in place when school begins. This means that school buses will meet public safety and social distancing standards that limit the number of students who can board the bus at any given time.
Perkins says these COVID security protocols are considered against national and state guidelines. A continued decline in COVID-19 cases and a relaxation of social distancing guidelines could influence this new transportation policy when it needs to be assessed in the spring, but likely not before.
The school district is actively recruiting qualified bus drivers who are able to support the district. If you would like to apply, click here: https://savannahccs.tedk12.com/hire/ViewJob.aspx?JobID=2066