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La Conner Schools need bus drivers

La Conner Schools Finance Director David Cram is confident the district’s new fiscal game plan is headed in the right direction after declining student enrollment and loss of COVID-19 emergency funds forced severe budget cuts for the 2023-24 academic year.

Now Cram is hopeful the district’s transportation department can likewise get past some bumps in the road in the form of a bus driver shortage that has plagued La Conner Schools since the start of the calendar year.

“We’re definitely in need of drivers,” said Cram, whose expanded role this year – yet another indicator of the district’s shrinking budget – includes overseeing La Conner’s transportation operations.

“Right now,” Cram told the Weekly News, “we’re running buses at full capacity and we’ve had to consolidate routes.”

Because more student will spend more time on buses, Cram said the district is also exploring placement of adult monitors on daily routes.

“We’re trying to put monitors on the buses,” he confirmed on Thursday.

There is a need for drivers to cover academic field trips and transportation to and from athletic events through the school year.

“The sports trips are a good deal for people who like to watch the games,” said Cram, a three-sport athlete when he attended La Conner.

The district has had a driver shortage since coming out of the pandemic. Add to that several retirements and loss of staff – including longtime transportation director (and current school board member) Kim Pedroza to other districts.

Former department mechanic Randy Swift, now retired, alerted the board last January to the budding bus driver shortage.

“Right now,” he said then, “it’s past critical. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be here.”

La Conner is not alone in being short bus drivers. Districts across the region, state and nation are likewise feeling the crunch.

Media outlets have reported on the topic, noting that some districts have staggered bus schedules and even paid parents to drive to fill driver shortages. A USA Today analysis reported that every state in the country has faced difficulties from the lack of qualified school bus drivers.

Cram, who invites those interested in joining the district’s transportation team to contact him, said among the benefits the local district offers is staff camaraderie.

“We have a lot of great people, quite a few of them alums,” said Cram, pointing to longtime driver Barb Howlett as a prime example, “who care about the district and are all about doing what’s best for kids.”


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