Three weeks into the school year, Spokane Public Schools is still dealing with some of the same transportation headaches as last year.
However, the district says the situation is far better than last spring, when routes were often delayed by an hour or more while others were suspended due to a severe shortage of drivers.
District spokesperson Ryan Lancaster said they no longer were seeing 60- to 90-minute wait times as drivers completed one route before being able to return to the school to begin another, “and have heard the relief from building leaders and families.”
He added, “That said, we’re still seeing some issues with disruptions and delays as everyone acclimates to what amounts to a full-scale reworking of routes and stops this year.”
Last spring and summer, the district responded to the chronic driver shortage at Durham School Services by approving changes in its transportation model, including fewer bus stops, longer walks to school for middle and high school students and a new partnership with the Spokane Transit Authority.
Those moves were made in anticipation of continued driver shortages.
Prior to the pandemic, Durham employed about 170 drivers in Spokane. Durham now has 107 bus drivers, six van drivers and seven substitutes, plus several candidates who were scheduled to complete their training this week.
“While that’s an improvement from just a month back, it’s still lower than we’d like,” Lancaster said.
However, Lancaster said STA has been responsive when adding additional buses to handle overflow when needed and making scheduling changes to better accommodate routes to and from high schools.
“We’re tied in with their safety team and have received no word of issues,” Lancaster said of Durham, which is in the final year of a five-year contract with the district.
By the end of this year, Lancaster said, the district plans to send out a request for proposals, which solicits bids from qualified contractors.
In the meantime, the district is receiving calls from families confused about the change in the walk boundary (from 1 mile to 1½ miles for secondary students), as well as from North Side eighth-graders who are still attending their home middle school this year but were listed in the system as living within the boundaries of the new Yasuhara and Flett middle schools.
Lancaster said the district is hoping to avoid similar confusion next year, when the new Carla Peperzak Middle School opens on the South Hill.
Families who still have questions or concerns should call the district’s transportation hotline at (509) 354-5970 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Outside of those hours, families may send messages at spokaneschools.org/letstalk.
“I’d tell families that informing us about any transportation issues they’re experiencing is the important first step to helping us find a resolution,” Lancaster said.
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