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Since June, First Student hired 14 new bus drivers for the West Linn-Wilsonville School District

At the Oct. 8 West Linn-Wilsonville School Board meeting, staff announced First Student — the school bus transportation provider — hired new drivers, increased wages and added additional bus routes in the WL-WV School District to help lessen the frequency of school bus tardiness.

Because of the national school bus driver shortage, First Student gave incentives to draw more drivers to the district. This summer, WL-WV School District bus driver wages were increased by $1 an hour and First Student increased drivers' signing bonuses.

Aaron Downs, WL-WV assistant superintendent of secondary schools, also provided a general update on First Student and talked about areas for growth.

Since June, 14 new drivers were hired.

"Which in their world is a lot of drivers in a short period of time," Downs said. "They are continuing to build their base, so right now they have a desire to continue to build what they would call a 'substitute base.'"

A challenge with building a substitute base is ensuring that the drivers know the routes, but Downs said it's important, especially if drivers briefly miss work.

To help with bus efficiency and punctuality, the school district added four additional routes, making a total of 71 routes, at the end of the last school year.

"There's still some kinks they're working out but the four additional routes have been helpful," Downs said, adding that the district has 13 newer buses that replaced an aging fleet, and the district will have four new buses by the end of year.

Downs said he is always looking to address areas for improvement — late buses being a priority.

Issues like traffic and new drivers not familiar with the routes, can also cause late buses.

Buses have especially struggled to reach middle schools on time, which are the last stops on the route.

"One example would be at West Linn High School. We noticed this year that the buses are having a hard time getting out of West Linn High School," Downs said, adding that the addition of flaggers will help the buses navigate their way out of after-school congestion.

Downs also noted that WL-WV school bus drivers drive an average of 5,700 miles daily.

"(That's) basically going to Washington D.C and back," Downs said. "That's kind of unique in a district our size. We really appreciate, especially with working with a new general manager and new location manager, just the dedication they took to look at what are our boundaries and how do we get kids to schools? They just work extremely hard."

And when bus drivers are driving an average of 5,700 miles daily, traffic is bound to play a role for late buses.

"We noticed an increase with construction delays and just general traffic patterns," Downs said, adding that one wrong turn or a construction delay could back up drivers for the next two routes.

This is why the district and First Student have amped up communication with parents by sending out notices if buses will be delayed.

PERS rate goes up

Also during the meeting, Son Le Hughes, the district's chief financial officer, gave a breakdown of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) — a pension fund designed to help public employees in their retirement.

Last week, the rate employers have to pay to PERS increased by 5.6 percent. The district pays 24.25 percent of its payroll to PERS for employees in Tier One — employees hired prior to January 1996 — and employees in Tier Two — employees hired after Jan. 1 1996 and before August 2003. This new rate doesn't include the 6 percent the district picks up for the employees' portion and the 7 percent rate for the unfunded liability — the gap between how much the employer owes the retiree and how much money the pension fund actually has.

Currently, the WL-WV school district has 298 employees in Tier One and Tier Two.

Tidings reporter Clara Howell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-636-1281.

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