JCPS suspends some bus routes amid driver shortage, absences - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS suspends some bus routes amid driver shortage, absences

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A JCPS bus driver gets ready to drop students off in the Portland neighborhood on Dec. 1. (WDRB file photo) A JCPS bus driver gets ready to drop students off in the Portland neighborhood on Dec. 1. (WDRB file photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A high number of absences by Jefferson County Public Schools bus drivers in the past week has twice led to some of the district's students being given tickets to ride TARC buses to and from school.

District officials say they had 180 bus drivers absent on Friday and another 150 drivers absent on Monday, which led JCPS to cancel nine routes to and from the district's alternative schools on Friday and the cancellation of two routes on Monday.

The absences, combined with the fact that JCPS is short about 50 drivers, caused students from Minor Daniels Academy and Breckinridge Metro High School -- to either take a different school bus route or take a TARC bus, said Allison Martin, a JCPS spokeswoman.

"Families were informed that they could either meet another bus at a different route, or that TARC tickets would be made available for them to use," she said. 

The district has approximately 1,100 bus drivers. On average, about 120 are absent each day for a variety of reasons -- including sick leave or vacation.

Martin said when there are a high number of bus driver absences, the first routes canceled are those assigned to the district's alternative schools because they have the least number of students who ride the buses.

"In addition, students who ride those routes tend to change more frequently because alternative schools are a temporary assignment," she said.

One parent tells WDRB she started noticing a problem before winter break.

"My son would go out to the bus stop, sit out there for 20-30 minutes and the bus would never come," said Jamie Denton, whose 14-year-old son is assigned to Minor Daniels Academy. "After calling the bus compound and the school, I found out it was because they did not have enough bus drivers."

Denton, who lives in Park DuValle neighborhood, said the bus compound told her in January to "call each morning to see if there would be a bus available that day."

Then last week Friday, she got a text alert from Minor Daniels Academy, informing her that students who ride bus numbers 575, 756, 827, 828 and 830 should call the school. When she called, the school told her that her son would be taking a TARC bus home.

On Monday morning, Denton received another text stating that bus numbers 827, 575 and 756 would not be running in the morning or the afternoon.

"I don't know if it's because the drivers are out sick or if it's because of all the problems they have been having on buses lately," she said. "But it concerns me because some days he is getting to school late and I don't want him to be considered truant."

Martin said that if a student is late due to a district transportation issue, they are not considered truant or tardy.

As WDRB has been reporting throughout the past few months, some of the district's bus drivers are struggling to control fights and other disruptive student behavior on buses.

The problems come at a time time when officials were struggling to fill dozens of jobs held by bus drivers who have resigned or retired.

Earlier this week, it was announced that a pilot program to place volunteer monitors on some of JCPS' most challenging bus routes is expected to begin later this month.

Michael Raisor, JCPS chief operations officer, said the district is looking at a number of solutions to help combat the small percentage of students who misbehave.

WDRB investigation found that two-thirds of the discipline referrals written by JCPS bus drivers involve students who ride only 5 percent of the district’s 964 bus routes. Of the 2,763 bus referrals written through the first 70 days of the 2015-16 year, 1,830 of the referrals came from the 50 routes previously identified by the district as the most ‘challenging’ in Louisville. 

Martin said the district is trying its best to fill its bus driver ranks. 

"We are holding job fairs to recruit bus drivers," she said, adding that 16 drivers are currently going through training and should be on the road soon.

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Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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