Being a bus driver can suck. Just ask the Baines Middle School driver who, fed up with some loud kids on her route, stopped her bus in traffic, gathered her things and walked off the job earlier this year. Plus, in Houston's boom-town economy, there are still plenty of jobs elsewhere, jobs that don't involve split-shift work and bratty kids.
Perhaps that's why Katy ISD -- which takes on an additional 3,000 kids every year -- simply can't find enough drivers to make up for its booming student enrollment.
"We're not the only ones facing a shortage like this," said Katy ISD spokesperson Denisse Cantu. "Districts across the state and the region are facing this shortage. Driving a big bus is not exactly the easiest thing in the world...It's a very demanding job." Cantu says Katy ISD is still about 90 drivers short of what the district needs, despite "enhanced recruitment efforts," like offering more incentives and hourly pay increases
As a result of its driver crunch, Katy ISD is asking parents for input on how the district is considering changing its bus routes -- mainly by increasing the distance some kids will have to walk to school. (But, hey, that builds character, right?)
Currently, Katy provides bus service to elementary students who live outside of a half-mile radius from their school. Junior high and high school students who live a mile away from their school campuses are eligible for busing. All include tossing the antiquated radius-from-school-property distance for a so-called "turn-by-turn" measurement (essentially, measuring distance from the school using the shortest driving path). The four options on the table the district sent to parents this week are:
- Elementary, junior high and high school students would all have to live more than a two-mile drive away from school to be eligible for busing.
- Switch schools to a multi-bell schedule, which, according to the district, would allow for better use of bus drivers, who could make more runs throughout the day to service more routes.
- A combination of the previous two options, the district would change to a multi-bell schedule and the distance eligibility requirements. Under this option, the district would offer bus service for elementary school students who live more than a mile's drive away from the school. Junior high and high school students would have to live more than two miles away from their school to qualify for busing.
- Or, do nothing right now, and punt to the 2015-2016 school year.
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Cantu says the district will gather the survey results and present recommendations to the board of trustees sometime in February or March. She also says the district's Hazardous Route Review Committee would review some of the routes that kids would be forced to walk, should the busing plan change, to make sure students aren't braving heavy traffic or dangerous routes on their way to school.
"For example, an area in which there was not a sidewalk but had a walk path but now the walk path is no longer maintained, construction in the area, tremendously large increase in traffic along a road or at an intersection, distance the student has to walk or ride abike to school, etc," she said in an email.
So for now, Katy students, be kind to your bus driver. Chances are some of you might not have one for too much longer.