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The district tries to problem-solve and asks families for 'more grace and flexibility.'

PMG FILE PHOTO - Like many school districts across the country, Lake Oswego is facing a shortage of bus drivers as the 2021-22 school year begins. In late August, the Lake Oswego School District rang in the academic year with high hopes to welcome students at full capacity back into the classroom. However, getting students to school continues to remain an issue as the district experiences a bus driver shortage.

The district's struggle mirrors a nationwide issue, as many districts across the U.S scramble to find solutions to the persistent shortages in bus drivers and transportation. In an August 2021 national survey conducted by the National Association for Pupil Transportation, 51% of student transportation services characterized bus driver shortages as "severe" or "desperate."

Some states, like Massachusetts, have even requested assistance from the National Guard to alleviate the shortage. In Lake Oswego, the district continues efforts to consolidate its transportation service and problem-solve.

"We here in Lake Oswego are not immune to what's going on in the region and nationally with the severe shortage of bus drivers," said Mary Kay Larson, communications director for the school district.

What does the shortage mean?

The district began the academic year with minimal transportation staff and was borrowing drivers from neighboring counties. Three drivers resigned within a week of the start of the school year, according to a letter sent to families.

Many drivers leave because of the stress of the work environment.

A potential driver may join the school district's team in the next couple of weeks, but nothing is confirmed. To reach the minimum capacity of working staff, the district is short about seven drivers, according to Larson.

Last spring, with the school district's help, Student Transportation of America increased driver pay by more than 25%. However, it didn't have the impact they were hoping for.

The shortage has forced the district to consolidate, meaning fewer routes with more stops. Bus drivers are often working back-to-back shifts to get all grade levels to school, which can cause delays in pick-up and drop-off times.

However, 10 miles south, the West Linn-Wilsonville school district, which uses First Student Bus Company, may be one of the only districts in the nation without a shortage.

There's even room for driver absences, as the West Linn-Wilsonville district has slightly more drivers than it would need to be considered fully staffed. The district kept its contract with First Student all throughout the pandemic, even while in Comprehensive Distance Learning. Drivers were even utilized to deliver meals to students for a short period. This decision most likely aided the district in maintaining a strong driver pool, according to officials.

West Linn-Wilsonville Communications Director Andrew Kilstrom said that although the start of the school year has presented some challenges with setting a routine around busing, the district is confident with the protocols in place.

What families and students can do

According to the letter, some parents have become angry with late buses and berated drivers in front of students. The district asks "for more grace and flexibility" from families.

The district also encourages students to walk, bike or carpool with others to minimize the amount of traffic on the roads — which can cause bottleneck traffic that increases route times. "None of this is ideal, but it is our reality. We are trying to be transparent with you in hopes of building understanding and improving conditions," LOSD Superintendent Jennifer Schiele said in the letter.

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