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Bus route cancellation plan to continue at TRCS; district still short two bus drivers

(From left to right) Three Rivers Community Schools Facilities Director Brian Leonard, TRCS Transportation Director Kenni Jean Schrader, Three Rivers Middle School Assistant Principal Anthony Wolbert, TRCS Board of Education Secretary Ben Karle and TRCS Board of Education Trustee Linda Baker discuss the continuation of a rotating bus route cancellation schedule during a work session at Monday’s TRCS Board of Education meeting. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

THREE RIVERS — A plan to cancel bus routes in Three Rivers Community Schools is slated to continue for the foreseeable future.

During Monday’s work session at the TRCS Board of Education meeting, Transportation Director Kenni Jean Schrader and Facilities Director Brian Leonard told board members that even though they are in the process of training two more bus drivers and are “slowly digging our way out” with finding drivers, they felt it was best to continue the rotating route cancellation schedule that has been in place since the beginning of the school year.

“At this time, we are still two drivers down. So, with the route cancellation schedule, our goal is to not have to do this, but right now in the best interest of all stakeholders, including families and buildings, we feel that it’s best to have this time to continue the practice of this schedule until we feel a bit more stable,” Schrader said.

The rotating route cancellation schedule was put into place by the district in mid-September due to what district officials called “difficulties” in hiring bus drivers. Under the schedule, two bus routes would be cancelled for a period of about a month and a half at a time, with the routes being cancelled switching every period. Currently, the routes for Bus 3 and Bus 20 were cancelled on Monday, with the cancellation lasting until Jan. 26, 2024.

The rest of the route cancellations currently planned for the rest of the school year are the following:

  • Bus 14 and Bus 25: Jan. 29 – March 8
  • Bus 15 and Bus 23: March 11 – Apr. 20
  • Bus 19 and Bus 21: Apr. 11 – May 31

As previously reported by the Commercial-News, families will have to arrange alternative transportation if their children ride those buses during the time periods listed. For bus transfers, if a student rides a transfer bus in the morning, they may drop their student off at the Middle School transfer hub by 7:25 a.m. to receive transport to their school of attendance. For afternoon transfers, if a transfer bus is canceled, families will need to transport the student to and from school.

Families impacted by the changes will be emailed a second notification prior to the cancellation of their bus.

While the district is still two bus drivers down, Schrader noted that the district has hired six drivers since the beginning of the school year, which nearly fills the hole of seven drivers who Schrader said left at the end of the 2022-23 school year. In a report given to board members, it states those six drivers have received their Commercial Driver’s License, one trainee will be eligible for a skills exam in four to six weeks and another trainee will be eligible for an exam in two to three weeks. In addition, the report said an applicant is in the onboarding process to provide general education and athletic trip coverage assistance part-time.

In total, the report states there are currently 17 drivers for 14 routes, with one substitute driver and two drivers currently not reporting for duty. Transportation department supervisors are also covering other routes that need coverage due to call-offs and driver illnesses.

Schrader said the route cancellations will continue until “as soon as we feel that it’s the best interest of staff, students, everybody to formally be able to implement the routes.”

Leonard said he recommended reducing the number of cancelled routes to one per period instead of two once drivers are “proven ready.”

“Kenni Jean is always pushing me to try to get them back on the road, and that’s because of the passion for firing services at 100 percent, and I’m 100 percent behind that idea,” Leonard said. “But at the same time, what can we do right? That’s where I keep coming in and pushing back, and we go back and forth on this; how do we make sure that we’re not going to start a route, and three days later cancel it because someone gets sick? We have no backups.”

Leonard added the district was “pushing and hoping” to get enough drivers as soon as possible to reduce or cancel the cancellations, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Also included in the report to the board was the implementation of a district Transportation Team that meets monthly and is made up of representation from the transportation department, central administration, athletics, high school, middle school, grade schools, and Board of Education. Their goal, according to the report, is to review current transportation strategies, provide a “broader understanding” of the challenges impacting transportation across the district, and to collaborate on exploring and developing “alternative strategies” to the problem.

In addition, the report states the district has “initiated conversation” with private transportation companies and surrounding districts to look into possible “partnership opportunities.”

In other business…

  • In a report from the board’s Finance Committee, Board Treasurer Julia Awe said that the district’s 2022-23 audit report from Plante Moran showed that while the district is adding money to the fund balance, there were still “unknowns,” such as some IRS reconciliations the district “[doesn’t] have firm numbers on yet.” Awe added that there were also two findings in the audit, having to do with Title I allocations and the timing of the audit request, but noted they were addressed – the Title I allocations were corrected, and the timing issue was due to personnel changes in the district.
  • Reporting on the board’s Human Resources Committee, trustee Nichole Cover said the district is looking into creating a Student Success Coordinator position at the Middle School to replace the behavior interventionist (BI) role in the building following the departure of some BIs.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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