A critical bus driver shortage continues to impact student transportation in the Bethlehem Central School District. As a result, the high school will continue its current bell time schedule throughout the entire 2021-22 school year, with students at BCHS beginning the school day at 7:35 a.m. This decision will allow the district to continue to accommodate the transportation needs of all students K-12.
The district currently has 59 school bus drivers available to provide transportation to students at the district’s seven schools, at private and parochial schools and for afterschool activities. Prior to COVID, the district had more than 80 available bus drivers.
By keeping the high school start time at 7:35 a.m., the district is able to run a “three-tier” bus system in which one driver can pick up/drop off students in three separate runs to and from the high school, middle school and elementary schools. Approximately 45 minutes is needed for drivers to complete each run. In order to accommodate a two-tier system (needed for the high school and the middle school to start at the same time) the district would require up to 20 additional drivers.
“I’m sure this is disappointing news to some, but our only option at this point in time is to keep our 7:35 start time at the high school,” said Superintendent Jody Monroe. “We have been lucky to be able to maintain a staff of 59 drivers since the start of the year but like all other school districts across the country, we are hard-pressed to fill our bus driver vacancies or find substitute drivers.”
Monroe said that she will be providing the Board of Education with a transportation update at the next board meeting to be held on Wednesday, Nov. 17. At that meeting, Monroe said, the district will begin preliminary discussions about changes to bell times and transportation eligibility for students across the district.
The district has already consolidated several bus routes districtwide and this year implemented a bus registration process to help secure more accurate ridership data.
“We were hoping that we could find further efficiencies by using actual ridership data collected at the beginning of the year,” said Superintendent Monroe. “While we are happy to see students and families utilizing our transportation, there is simply no wiggle room to be found when it comes to route consolidation.”
Superintendent Monroe said the first goal for the district is to ensure long-term stability for student transportation.
“We are not abandoning our efforts to get to a later start time at the high school, and to stay there,” said Monroe. “However, we are in a long-term hiring crisis and in order to get to that point we need to ensure our transportation framework can support the needs of all students in the most equitable way possible.”
Monroe said this information will also be shared directly with students at the high school.
The BC Transportation Department has been actively recruiting drivers, holding regular “Ride and Drive” events designed to attract prospective driver candidates. All information about being a bus driver at BC can be found here.