DUANESBURG — Officials at the Duanesburg Central School District are considering adopting a policy that would allow teachers and coaches to transport students on limited occasions amid a bus driver shortage that has affected schools throughout the region.
The district’s school board on Tuesday introduced an updated transportation policy that would allow certified teachers and coaches to transport small groups of students using a school-owned vehicle on no more than 29 occasions during the academic year if “transportation staff is unavailable to provide transport.”
“There is no expectation that teachers or coaches will volunteer to drive and volunteering on one occasion does not mean that the coach or teacher will do so on each occasion,” the proposed policy reads.
A similar policy is already in place at the Greater Johnstown School District and is under consideration by the Saratoga Springs City School District — two district’s that have been hit hard by a bus driver shortage that has led to canceled or extended routes throughout the region and, in some instances, forced students to miss out on extracurricular activities.
Officials in Duanesburg hope to use the revised policy sparingly, though state law does allow for teachers, coaches, ministers or parents to transport up to 16 students to and from extracurricular activities.
Superintendent James Niedermeier, during Tuesday’s meeting, said the updated policy is intended to make clear the parameters where teachers and coaches would be allowed to transport students under the law, noting the policy may be helpful amid ongoing struggles to recruit bus drivers.
“Not that anybody has to provide transportation, but especially because we’ve been so short-handed in transportation, it’s helpful if you have a small trip to be able to run five kids in a [Chevrolet] Suburban to an event,” he said.
A timeline for when the new policy would be adopted remains unclear. The school board is expected to tweak the policy and put it up for a second reading at its December meeting.
Niedermeier was unavailable for an interview Wednesday, but Trisha Miller, a district spokesperson, said the updated policy comes after requests from staff members who “have asked if they can be of assistance in transporting small teams if there is a transportation emergency.”
A similar policy is already in place at the Greater Johnstown School District, according to Superintendent William Crankshaw, who called the policy a “last resort option.”
“I must stress that this is a last resort option, and the district does not wish to put teachers and coaches in the position of transporting students,” he said in an email.
Johnstown schools have been hit hard by the driver shortage, which has led to sporting events being canceled in order to prioritize transporting students to and from school, according to Crankshaw, who noted cancellations were handed down only when “absolutely necessary.”
“Fortunately, things look a little bit better for the upcoming athletic season,” he said. “We have been able to complete most runs using outside contract services. Parents and even coaches have been more than cooperative and understanding.”
In Duanesburg, the district enacted extended bus routes this year as it worked to fill driver positions, which require a Class B commercial driver’s license and come with an hourly salary of $20.
Under the proposed policy, teachers and coaches who do volunteer to transport students would not be required to hold a CDL, but must show proof they have a valid state driver’s license. The policy aligns with state law, which requires those transporting 16 or more kids to undergo random drug and alcohol testing.
“We still anticipate using this only on rare occasions,” Miller said.
A shortage of bus drivers is not a new issue.
Last year, the state announced a multi-agency effort to bolster recruitment, including reaching out to more than 500,000 CDL holders throughout the state. Local district’s have also worked on their own to address the issue.
In Saratoga Springs, where school officials have amended the attendance policy for students to reflect canceled bus routes, the district is “exploring” training school employees and coaches to drive buses on occasion, according to Maura Manny, the district’s director of community outreach and communications, who noted the employees there would still be required to hold a CDL.
The Saratoga Springs City School District has worked to bolster bus driver recruitment since the school year began — efforts that appear to be paying off.
Manny said the district currently employs 84 regular and substitute bus drivers, and is in the process of training six more and is just five or six drivers from being fully staffed.
But no routes have been canceled since early October, Manny said.
The district, on Saturday, will be hosting a “Test Drive a Bus” event at the Maple Avenue MIddle School from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., where individuals can test drive a school bus and talk with transportation officials about employment opportunities.
But while some district’s work to get a handle on the situation, others are still plagued by issues.
On Wednesday, the Ballston Spa Central School District announced the cancellation of three bus routes, impacting students at the middle/high school and elementary school. The district, earlier this year, announced a number of bus routes would be canceled earlier this year due to the shortage.
The cancellations are the latest in a series the district has experienced since school began in September and come amid ongoing recruitment efforts by the district.
Last month, the district hosted a job fair at its transportation facility in a bid to recruit additional drivers, though it’s unclear if the effort paid off.
The district did not return a request seeking comment Wednesday regarding the canceled routes.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.