Bus driver shortage eases for Garfield County schools | VailDaily.com

Bus driver shortage eases for Garfield County schools

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
Chad Spangler/Post IndependentStudents at Sopris Elementary School wait for their bus to leave after school on Friday afternoon. Despite difficulties in filling bus driver positions in the past, this year there are fewer routes without drivers in the Roaring Fork School District.

GARFIELD COUNTY, Colorado – Roaring Fork School District Transportation Director Larry Estrada is a little more relaxed this year.

Currently, the RFSD has only one full route in Carbondale and another morning route in Basalt, considered a part-time route, without full-time drivers.

“It’s a little better than last year,” Estrada said. “Last year I was down about three drivers, and now it’s just one and a half.”

But the situation is improving for the RFSD and neighboring Garfield School District Re-2 compared to the previous years, where districts have struggled to compete with the energy industry wages.

“It’s definitely better than last year,” said Re-2 Transportation Director Sanja Morgan. “We’re not fully staffed, but it’s better.”

Morgan said that her situation has improved from having upwards of seven open routes last year, to having only two open routes this year. But this year’s struggle for Morgan is they don’t have an adequate number of substitute drivers to pitch in on the open routes either.

“The big problem is we ony have a couple of subs to fill in,” Morgan said.

Re-2 still has its mechanics filling in on open routes, something that RFSD has gotten used to doing in recent years as well. However this year Estrada hasn’t had to go to that length just yet. Estrada said that the RFSD has “plenty of subs,” and also has a couple more in training to help cover the open routes in Basalt and Carbondale.

But with athletics and field trips on top of just providing transportation to and from school, drivers are stretched thin.

“It does get a little tight with those extra activites,” Estrada said.

He indicated that he’s also had a number of teachers pitching in to help out with driving routes over the years. Estrada didn’t have an exact number of teachers who drive buses, but said that he had several who pick up students in the morning drive them to school with the school they work at being their final stop. After school they return to the bus and take the students home again.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate with a lot of my drivers being teachers,” Estrada said. “It works out pretty well.”

Apparently, it’s a system that has worked for several years as well. According to Estrada, some of the teachers have been driving buses for as long as 17 years. And the only reason for some of the open routes is that some of the longtime teacher/drivers retired over the years.

With the increase in bus drivers making things better for Estrada, record gas prices have created another problem for him altogether.

“It’s the biggest jump I’ve seen,” Estrada said about the RFSD’s transportation fuel budget. “And it fluctuates so much that it’s hard to budget for. You can never budget correctly for that.”

The RFSD’s fuel budget increased about 30 percent compared to the 2006-07 budget, according to Estrada, up from $237,000 to $308,000 for this year. Those rising budgets also affect drivers’ wages, too, according to Estrada.

“That not only affects the pay for drivers but teachers pay as well,” Estrada said. “It affects everyone.”

Contact John Gardner: 384-9114


Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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