Students in the Anchorage School District will have bus service on a rotating basis until further notice, the district told parents Friday.
The district is currently 56 drivers short. District leaders had previously hoped to end its rotating bus schedule by the start of October. But operations director Rob Holland said not enough drivers are coming back from tourism jobs in time.
“There continue to be a lot of job choices out there, including driving jobs, so I don’t think we’ve seen the influx we originally thought based on history,” he said.
Nine new drivers are expected to start in the coming weeks. Thirty others are in training. The district is still offering a range of hiring incentives, including $2,500 bonuses for drivers who stay on through the first semester.
The district is still in contract negotiations with Teamsters Local 959, the union that represents some school bus drivers. But Holland said he doesn’t think those negotiations are playing a role in the hiring delay.
“I’m sure that both sides are looking forward to a resolution where we can move forward,” he said.
At the beginning of the school year, the district divided school bus routes into three cohorts. Each cohort got three weeks of service and six without. Holland says 24 routes have been given full-time service based on high need.
Cohort 3 will have service for the first time Monday. Anchorage drivers should expect heavier traffic around Begich, Wendler, Goldenview, Romig and Hanshew middle schools, along with Bartlett, Service, East, West and South high schools.
District leaders are hiring a consultant to analyze its transportation system and suggest changes for next school year. Those might include changing school start and end times or further reducing the number of stops on each route.
“When the software is fully implemented, we should be able to really find a lot of ways we can reduce the number of buses and bus drivers that we need,” said Michael Akes, the district’s director of assessment and evaluation. “We would have a fully staffed busing fleet.”