JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Right now, Jefferson County is short 81 bus drivers and 96 food service workers. As a result, more than 1,500 students will feel an impact after the weekend.
Starting Monday, nearly 30 bus routes,19 neighborhood routes and eight Options/Choice school routes, are going to be temporarily suspended in Jefferson County. Lunch options could be impacted at several schools due to the major staffing shortage in the school district.
FOX31 Problem Solvers are taking parents’ and teachers’ concerns to the district, asking what they should do next.
“One of my colleagues mentioned today, we claim we prioritize equity and attendance and then our actions show otherwise,” Arvada High School teacher David Holt said.
Holt says a number of his students rely on bus and lunch services from the school. He’s had students tell him their bus routes are going to be suspended and they are scrambling to figure out how to get to school now.
“I understand there’s a shortage of bus drivers and food service, but it feels from the inside like steps haven’t been taken fast enough or drastic enough to solve these issues before it impacted the classroom,” Holt said.
The district tells the FOX31 Problem Solvers it is trying to incentivize drivers by paying for their training and CDL licenses which cost $5,000-$7,000. Pay is just under $20 dollars/hour with a guaranteed 30-hour base schedule and full benefits.
“The unfortunate thing is we have been escalating into this crisis for probably the last eight to 10 years in JeffCo,” Jefferson County Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA) President Lara Center said.
JESPA is a union supporting Jefferson County bus drivers and food service employees. Center says the upcoming suspension of services is terrifying for the current employees fighting to provide bus and food lifelines to kids.
“What we are hearing it’s going off the rails, it’s very stressful for them,” Center said. “They are crying at work, they are going home exhausted and crying again at home. It’s really hitting a breaking point.”
District representatives tell FOX31 Problem Solvers that administrators and employees are feeling the stress too.
In part of a statement, a representative from Jefferson County Schools shared the following:
“Many Jeffco team members have given up their personal time with their own families in order to accommodate the staffing shortages. And yet, our staff are experiencing abusive and threatening treatment and messaging every day. We are doing our best and we have many dedicated Jeffco employees across our district who go above and beyond. However, we have reached a point where we have exhausted every resource to be able to provide the same level of service we always have.”
“The victims are the parents, the victims are the students,” parent Brian Husle said.
Husle has a junior at McClain Community High School, one of eight option schools that will have suspended bus routes.
“I just think it’s tragic targeting Option schools, a vulnerable population, the people who probably need it the most,” Husle said. “We are nearly 20 miles away from McClain so we rely very heavily on his ability to take the bus from the south transport location.”
Husle says his son’s school gets out earlier than other high schools so it isn’t feasible to leave in the middle of a work day to pick up his son since bus drivers now can’t.
“It was just very curious to throw it on parents and basically say deal with it,” Husle said. “There’ wasn’t any information in the email about support options for parents that don’t have the ability to take their child to and from school.”
When asked about options for parents, a district representative shared the following response to FOX31 Problem Solvers:
There has been some work done providing alternatives and suggestions. Schools have reached out and partnered with our transportation staff to provide RTD passes to certain schools and students for whom RTD routes make sense; they are working with neighborhood schools to offer available seats on buses that are part of nearby routes for families who can make a different pick-up-drop-off location work; and they are currently looking into gathering and sharing resources families can choose to use on their own like carpooling services.
If a parent wants to have the school assist them in exploring alternatives, they should reach out to the school. These are not guaranteed alternatives, but everyone can work together to consider what options might help a family.