tcr-093021-bus-shortage

Buses sit parked at the TCAPS Transportation Facility in Traverse City on Wednesday.

TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools Superintendent John VanWagoner warned of further cuts to student transportation and asked parents and students for input in an email sent Thursday.

TCAPS has been experiencing a shortage of bus drivers since the school year began in September. The district has offered monetary incentives to applicants, tapped other school employees and extended routes to fill in the gaps, but continues to face a potential situation in which many transportation services will be cut.

“As we enter the cold and flu season, we know maintaining our regular transportation services may become impossible,” VanWagoner said in the email.

In an interview, VanWagoner said district officials are hopeful that there will be no need to cut any bus services, but in the event that they do, they want to hear from parents and students. A survey included in the Thursday message to parents intended to “gauge the priorities of students and parents,” according to the email.

“This is a case where if we do get in that situation, I don’t want to figure out the night before what the parents want,” VanWagoner said.

The brief survey includes three questions that ask parents and students to weigh in on how they would prefer the district to go about reducing transportation services. The survey asks parents and students whether they prefer consistency in cancellations or providing as much transportation coverage as possible, even if it is sporadic.

Despite officials’ efforts, TCAPS still has 13 vacant bus driver jobs, according to the email.

The district is currently offers paid training, sign-on bonuses up to $1,000 and $21 to $23.75 per hour wages, depending on experience. VanWagoner said the district is flexible and also offers drivers the ability to combine their bus driving work with other positions in the school district.

“We’re doing everything we can,” VanWagoner said.

Transportation for elementary age students has priority, and TCAPS plans to first disrupt routes for middle and high school students if the bus driver situation worsens.

VanWagoner said the school district still is not seriously considering shifting to virtual school, even if many middle and high school routes are cut. He said schools are “bound by a lot of legal red tape,” when it comes to inconsistently moving classes to virtual platforms.

The survey is available until 8 a.m. on Oct. 18.

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