Driver shortage disrupts Vail school day

2013-09-01T00:00:00Z Driver shortage disrupts Vail school dayBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A shortage of Vail School District bus drivers and construction on Houghton Road are causing many of the district’s students to be late for school.

Vail has had to pay drivers overtime and pull employees with commercial drivers licenses from other assignments and put them onto buses, district officials said.

For example, some dispatchers with commercial licenses have had to drive buses to make up for the shortage.

The district lacks about 10 drivers.

If there aren’t enough drivers on a certain day, it can disrupt the schedule and cause delays because the remaining drivers have to spend extra time on a route, said Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker.

“If we don’t have a driver for a route, we have to double back on that route,” he said. “If we have issues, it has ripple effects.”

The Houghton Road construction, between East Irvington and East Valencia roads, has compounded the problem, with students arriving late to schools located near the construction area, even if buses are on schedule.

“They’re arriving at school when the bell is ringing. The construction is adding a good five, 10 minutes,” said Danielle Hart, a parent who has three children attending district schools.

Two of Hart’s children ride the same bus to Senita Valley Elementary School and Rincon Vista Middle School, which are both located near Houghton and Bilby roads, in the midst of the construction area.

Those schools have made concessions by not marking students tardy if they’re late because of a delayed bus.

But students are missing valuable time when they arrive late to class in the mornings.

“When kids are 10-15 minutes late, they miss the beginning of class. They miss announcements and other events,” said Connie Erickson, principal of Senita Valley.

Some bus routes are short, but other routes take drivers all the way to Benson and back. The district covers about 425 square miles.

District buses also shuttle students to and from half-day kindergarten, as well as to and from after-school activities.

“We essentially have buses on the road from 6 a.m. to probably 7, 8 p.m.,” said Al Flores, director of facilities and transportation for the district.

To combat the bus driver shortage, Vail is offering a $200 incentive for employees who refer new drivers.

The district has also ramped up advertising, placing job-opening signs on district buses, as well as promoting openings on Facebook, Baker said.

Baker cited an improving economy as the reason for the shortage, saying drivers have left the district to take better-paying jobs.

The starting pay for a bus driver in Vail is $10.81 per hour.

The district could increase the pay, but officials have to juggle other needs, such as replacing old buses and maintaining resources for its classrooms.

“Of course, one action would be to increase compensation, but every dollar we spend to do that would have to come out of classroom dollars,” Baker said.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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