BUS DRIVER SHORTAGE: Saline Area Schools District Urges Parents to Make Alternate Transportation Plans, Issues Call for Drivers

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A deepening bus driver shortage has left Saline Area Schools urging parents to make plans for alternate transportation for their children.

A district-wide email from Rex Clary, Director of Operations, and Tracey Mulcare, of the operations specialist department, urged parents to prepare their own transportation to and from school in the event of bus cancellations. The email also encouraged parents to download the Ride 360 App to receive notifications in the "somewhat likely event" that a bus route may be canceled due to bus driver absences. Notifications will also be sent using school systems like "School Messenger."

According to the email, Operations Director Clary and other staff have been filling in as bus drivers because there are four uncovered routes. 

The email also asks parents not to phone the transportation office for information, because the staff is driving buses.

If a morning bus is canceled, parents should be alerted by noon whether or not there will be an afternoon bus, "however, you should be prepared to provide your own transportation both ways," the email said.

This development comes after school officials have also increased the number of families living in walk zones (areas deemed close enough to school that bussing won't be provided) as a result of the labor shortage.

Superintendent Steve Laatsch has been sounding the alarm over the district's ability to operationalize since he was first appointed. He's hopeful that community members will pitch in and help the district overcome this challenge.

"At the peak of the pandemic, people were saying, 'We'll do whatever we can to help.' Well, right now, we really need this help right now. We need bus drivers," Laatsch said. "I've been trying to stay focused on all the great things happening in our district. People are happy to be back in school. Athletics is back. Music is back. But we still have serious challenges to keep this all working."

Employers throughout the country are struggling to find workers. In Saline Schools, this shortage has been felt most in bus driving and custodial work.

Laatsch said Clary, who manages facility operations as well transportation, has been driving every day. 

"It's been a struggle. Rex cares. He's losing sleep over this," Laatsch said.

Some parents may be losing sleep trying to figure out how they'll make arrangements to pick up their children from school.

Megan Gunnerson is a single mom who works as an operating room nurse in Chelsea.

"I leave (for work) before my kids get on the bus. I'm not able to leave the operating room to come back and drive them to school if the bus is a no show, nor can I abandon patients to respond to a 'sorry no afternoon service' email received at noon," Gunnerson said.

She also wondered how the missed academic time might be supported if her kids have to miss school, and wondered how the absences will be supported.

Melissa Speicher said "there's no way any working parent can plan when you don't know if you'll have a bus each day until noon."

Bus drivers make $15.99 to $16.78 an hour depending on experience. They work from 6:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. before school and 2:30 to 4:45 p.m. after school. Benefits include nine paid holidays, a State of Michigan Pension. There's also the ability for health, dental, vision and life insurance benefits for drivers who average 30 hours per week.

For more information about the job, click here.

Below is the email sent by the district.

SAS Families,

As you know, there is a critical shortage of bus drivers, substitutes, and monitors. Currently, we have four uncovered routes that are being filled by our Director of Operations, Transportation Coordinator, and long-time retirees and valued substitutes.

In the somewhat-likely event that bus driver absences occur, your child’s route may be canceled for the day. To prepare for this potential cancellation:

  1. You are encouraged to “opt-in” to notifications in the Ride 360 App (PLEASE be sure you are receiving notifications). On Monday, September 27th, we will send a test notification via Ride 360 - please be on the lookout for this message.
  2. We will send a secondary notification using school systems such as School Messenger.

Important Notes:

  • Because our transportation office staff is out driving buses, you should not call the transportation office if your route is canceled. No one will be available to assist you.
  • If a morning route is canceled, you will know by Noon if your student has PM transportation. However, you should be prepared to provide your own transportation both ways.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate these challenging times.

If you have questions, please reach out to us here.

Have a great weekend.

Rex Clary and Tracey Mulcare
SAS Transportation

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Defund the wasteful and expensive stick figure debacle and use that budget to fund our all important school bus drivers. Problem solved. 

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