Loudoun School Leaders Say Solving Busing Problems Will Cost

Members of the Loudoun County School Board learned yesterday that the division’s bus driver shortage is worse than they initially were told, and that it will take creative solutions to fix the fractured transportation system.

Kevin Lewis, assistant superintendent of Support Services, told School Board members that the number of vacant bus driver positions that he’s previously reported—between 80 and 95—doesn’t tell the full story.

That is how many drivers it would take to fill the routes on the books for this school year. But the number of routes already have been scaled back because of the severe driver shortage. That’s triggered more than 100 double runs, meaning one bus picks up and drops off kids only to turn around and do a second run before the school day starts.

Taking questions from School Board member Joy Maloney (Broad Run), Transportation Director Michael Brown said, ideally, buses would be driving 625 routes each day, not 540. So, the school system could use as many as 160 more drivers than the 1,289 who are already on the pay roll.

The School Board members who gathered around the conference table during Wednesday’s Student Support and Services Committee meeting floated a few ideas for how to attract more drivers.

Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) suggested a bonus for school system employees who recruited bus drivers, an option Lewis said his staff is pursuing.

Debbie Rose (Algonkian), who chairs the committee, said it sounded like competitive compensation and benefits, more hours, and respect from students would get more drivers to stay and others to apply.

In the past two years, 203 bus drivers, substitute drivers, trainers and attendants have left, according to the school system. In that time, 132 have been hired on. While there is a national trend of a need for more school bus drivers, Loudoun County’s shortage is worse than its neighboring school districts.

Lewis noted that, while Loudoun offers its drivers a higher hourly wages than its neighbors, it does not provide as many hours or as competitive benefits. Two years ago, Loudoun’s School Board adopted a new policy that employees must work at least 21 hours a week to qualify for health care benefits. How much the employee pays for coverage is now on a sliding scale, based on how many hours an employee works per week. Other nearby jurisdictions provide full benefits for drivers, according to Lewis.

“We’re analyzing all of this and we’ll come to you with some suggestions and changes to consider,” Lewis told the committee.

Board members also discussed how to improve routes to shorten students’ wait times and bus rides, which have reached 90 minutes one way for some. One suggestion offered by board members was to have central pickup spots throughout rural Loudoun, and fewer pickups and drop-offs at students’ doors.

Lewis said that was worth considering, but noted that if one parent on a route can’t deliver their children to the bus stop, that would likely require a second bus to provide door-to-door service.

Board members brought up several other concerns that they have been hearing from parents, including a lack of communication to families, but Lewis’ answer to almost every one of them was the need for more staff, particularly drivers.

“The driver shortage is our main cause of the transportation problems right now,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get more people in here and start solving some of these problems.”

He told them, as discussions begin on fiscal year 2018’s budget, to expect requests for more money to solve some of the busing issues.

In an interview after the meeting, Rose said she would be in favor of targeting more funds to improving bus service.

Those interested in applying to be a bus driver or attendant can learn more here.

dnadler@loudounnow.com
twitter.com/danielle_nadler

10 thoughts on “Loudoun School Leaders Say Solving Busing Problems Will Cost

  • 2016-11-04 at 3:33 pm
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    Where is the LCPS transportation guy? I’d like to know how much busing costs annually and figure out the per pupil costs.

    “Busing is an efficient public good.” Is it? Perhaps this has been solved by the walking zones, but there were kids getting bused ridiculously short stretches. I’ve heard that athletic teams get bused home after games instead of having their parents pick them up. Fine, but parents need to pay for that extra service for an activity that isn’t even academic.

    I’d say busing is a public good and can be efficient but question whether it actually is. Regardless, there is a direct cost that can be billed directly to the recipients. Given the gross disparity between what parents pay for their kids to go to LCPS and the $15k/year it actually costs, here is one area where we can lessen that gap.

    • 2016-11-04 at 7:38 pm
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      Are we talking about kids getting bused to their neighborhood after games or bused back from the opposing team’s arena to their local school? I don’t support busing them to neighborhoods but we have to provide return transportation from the competitor school, right?

      The problem is not busing it’s the exorbitant costs of the schools. We have lower costs-of-living than our urban counties to the east but yet have higher starting salaries than all of them. We have many more teachers transferring into Loudoun but yet our school board claims we need to “increase” salaries to hire staff. Why? This clearly indicates we pay too much to teachers, not too little. This board cuts salaries in drivers to the point we are woefully understaffed (the market is telling us bus driver compensation is too low) but yet we continue to throw money where school board spouses work (Turgeon, Hornberger, DeKenipp)! Even though we have way more supply than we need! I wonder why.

      It will cost an extra $60M/yr at least to raise the mid-level salaries to the unprecedented levels that this school board defined as a “strategic goal”!!!! Who in their right mind would define a strategic goal as funneling cash to school board member spouses? We talk about corruption in the national race but it’s right here in front of our nose. Why do we allow this completely corrupt board to expropriate ever more of our tax dollars for their own household income?

  • 2016-11-03 at 7:47 pm
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    LCPS recieved an 8% increase last year while having less than 4% enrollment growth. It has plenty of money. Maybe if some board members didn’t want to pay their spouses the highest starting salaries in the NoVa area (despite much lower costs of living), there would be funds left over for the classified positions.

    Also, we need to fully explain the options to folks. If we drop health coverage, we need to convert that into salary (e.g. drop $10K health subsidy, pay $2K in federal fine, give $8K to employee). These employees would be much better off getting the extra pay and then getting massive subsidies on Obamacare with lower out of pocket costs. If we actually told employees what their total compensation was, there wouldn’t be so much frustration.

    Lastly, while I understand the view of having parents pay for kids busing or even tuition, I respectfully disagree. First, this incents folks to drive kids to school just like folks bring way too many bags on planes. Traffic would suffer even for those without kids. Public goods work because they are efficient. Busing is an efficient public good. There is simply no way to make the most efficient use of busing when charging a la carte pricing (think the Greenway).

  • 2016-11-03 at 7:15 pm
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    This once again shows how very poorly the School Board manages OUR MONEY. They need to cut spending and quit spending our tax dollars like there is an endless supply. Keep in mind the County announced a few weeks ago there was an approximate $57,000,000 shortfall and the School Board is coming for $90,000,000 more. So you do the math?

  • 2016-11-03 at 6:55 pm
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    Homie, it costs $15k/year for 1 kid in LCPS. Your typical Loudoun parents are paying $4k in property taxes and about $3k of that goes to LCPS. So, for every dollar a parent puts in, they get 5 out. It is no wonder so many whine for more, more, more. It’s a great deal. Imagine if you could get that with your 401k contributions. And that is just for 1 kid. If you have 2-3 in school you make out like a bandit on the backs of all those who don’t have kids in LCPS.

    So, it is well past time that those who have kids in the system pony up more cash. Everyone else in the world pays for their own metro fare, bus fares, cab fares, airplane tickets, etc. Kids who get transportation should have their parents pay for it. As with school lunch, those that can’t afford it get subsidies. It makes complete sense.

    No free rides!

  • 2016-11-03 at 6:26 pm
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    No, I disagree. In this state, busing has always been free and is part of the social contract we have. If you grew up here in Virginia you or someone you know had free busing.

    That’s great you did that, it was your choice. Don’t expect us all to jump on that bandwagon. You want to see lawsuits, watch what happens if this tries to go through. We’ll eat up more tax payer money on those than the actual busing. It’s really sad that you care more about money than a decent society. You probably want us to pay a tuition as well. I’m really glad that you and Dickinson are the immoral minority.

  • 2016-11-03 at 1:00 pm
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    How about parents being responsible for getting their children to and from school? It is part of what you sign up for when you have children. I participated in carpools for 19 years, while also holding a job, and never expected the taxpayers to provide transportation (or an education) for my children.

  • 2016-11-03 at 10:55 am
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    When the SB reduced the benefits they were warned this would happen. Perhaps they should listen to reasonable folks instead of the people who don’t want to pay taxes on anything (even though they themselves benefited from it).

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