Late Buses Persist

A First Student school bus travels along Geist Road Tuesday afternoon, August 22, 2017. School bus transportation continues to be a problem for public schools as the driver shortage persists.

FAIRBANKS - School bus routes will be at full strength on Monday, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has announced.

That means some children will have a new time that they catch the bus and a new bus number starting Monday.

A school bus driver shortage caused the district to reduce service and combine some routes in September. The situation has been remedied, according to Lisa Pearce, the district's chief financial officer.

Pearce said enough drivers have been hired to begin servicing all 137 routes outlined in the transportation contract with the provider, First Student.

This will be the first time this school year that all of the school bus routes are filled, according to Pearce.

As many as 7,000 students are eligible to ride the school bus. It's not clear how many students will be affected by the restored full service.

Parents of bus riders are asked to check the district's transportation website, www.k12northstar.org/transportation, for details on whether their child has a new time for meeting the bus or a new bus number.

"The bus number, honestly, is going to be the most crucial," Pearce said. "The information is all on the web. We would just really encourage parents to be proactive."

Pearce said that going full capacity will reduce the amount of time some students spend on the bus.

"Our desire truly is to shorten many of those routes," she said.

Also affected is Catholic Schools of Fairbanks, which is serviced by First Student, though some routes had been suspended. Those routes are now resuming, according to an email to parents.

First Student was short by about 20 drivers at the beginning of the school year. The school district temporarily reduced the number of routes to make pickups and dropoffs more predictable for families.

The Ohio-based transportation company pledged to work on driver recruitment along with other aspects of its service that have drawn criticism from school district officials, including the Board of Education.

Too few school bus drivers is a nationwide problem and has been an issue in the Fairbanks area in recent years, causing tension between First Student and the school district.

First Student is in the second year of a $14 million per year contract with the district.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.