Snoqualmie School District bus routes suspended amid national labor shortage

Aug 25, 2021, 1:20 PM | Updated: 3:51 pm

labor shortage...

School buses sit idle in a bus yard on May 6, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

As a result of a nationwide labor shortage, the Snoqualmie Valley School District has announced that 10% of its school bus routes have been temporarily suspended.

Schools affected include the following, according to Assistant Superintendent Ryan Stokes:

Cascade View Elementary School
Will be a walk-only school — the same as last year. Routes 17 and 18 are suspended.

Snoqualmie Elementary School
One preschool route arriving “late” at the end of the day; staff time will be added to supervise these students.

Timber Ridge Elementary and North Bend Elementary
If additional reductions are necessary, they will consider expanding walk-only zones around the schools.

Chief Kanim Middle School
Route 37 is suspended, servicing the town area of Fall City, 324th, Uplands, and Issaquah Fall City Road.

Snoqualmie Middle School
Route 26 is suspended, servicing the western area of downtown Snoqualmie, including Maple Avenue, SE Northern Street, SE 80/88/92/384th Streets, Pickering Court, Cedar, Northern, the Casino, and 93rd.

Twin Falls Middle School
Route 1 is suspended, servicing Snoqualmie Pass.

Route 4 is suspended, servicing Tanner, Tanner Woods, Cedar Village, Wood River, and Alpine Estates.

Edgewick, Tokul/Ernies Grove, Preston/Fall City Road and Lake Alice, Lake Marie/Fish Hatchery, and Wilderness Rim are still to be determined.

The state Superintendent’s Director of Student Transportation and Traffic Safety Education Patti Enbody told my MyNorthwest that Washington has not been immune to a nationwide driver and labor shortage.

“There is a nationwide driver shortage,” Enbody said. “It has been going on for some time, for years. I see that continuing.”

In a press release, Snoqualmie Valley states that no contractors were available to cover the now-suspended routes, citing the “national shortage.” To incentivize new hires, the district offers a $2,500 bonus, as well as medical and dental insurance.

The district is attempting to coordinate carpools for those families affected by the closures. They also mention that full-time remote learning is available for those who have no alternative means to commute.

The route closures are expected to last for 8-10 weeks.

“Office staff will be frequently driving each day to cover substitute needs,” reads the district’s statement on the suspensions.

Carolyn Malcolm, public information coordinator with Snoqualmie School District, told MyNorthwest that the district is looking to fill 15 additional positions to cover its 425 square mile span. Nine new drivers were hired and trained over the summer, three of whom have fulfilled the requisite certification process and are ready to begin Aug. 31.

“The driver shortage is a national issue. In our district it’s been a challenge and a struggle for several years now,” Malcolm said. “We’ve done all that we can to combine routes and make adjustments so it won’t affect our families.”

The labor shortage has not appeared to have affected Seattle Public Schools. The district contracts out their bus routes to First Student. The district’s Senior Location Manager, Donna Sansoterra, is confident that their competitive wages, community outreach, and training programs will result in a full driver staff by October.

“The driver shortage is country wide,” Sansoterra told MyNorthwest. “I know that we have recently had our recruiting ramp up significantly. Starting in July, we had a big influx of candidates. Recruiting is going well from our perspective. We will likely start the year without a full complement of stand by drivers, but we’re hoping to be in a position to have our routes covered, barring call outs. The summer can be challenging because there’s always some precarity.”

When asked about the relationship between local school districts and transportation contracts, Sansoterra mentioned that smaller districts do not have the capital advantage to pay the signing bonuses and competitive wages afforded to a larger district like Seattle Public Schools.

Lake Washington School District also plans to fully staff its routes. Shannon Parthemer, director of communications with Lake Washington, told MyNorthwest the district needs 106 drivers to be considered fully staffed. They currently have 96 active drivers, and 12 are in training.

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