The shortage of bus drivers is so severe that MPS plans to pay parents for transportation
Milwaukee public school leaders have called on Governor Tony Evers – unsuccessfully – to activate the National Guard to drive students to school, a sign that the shortage of school bus drivers remains a crisis.
As MPS students continue to be stranded daily by buses that never show up or show up with hours late, the district now plans to pay families to drive their own children to school. .
“We’re turning every stone and rock that we can to try to solve this problem,” said school board president Bob Peterson.
Under state law, Evers can only activate custody for state duty in certain situations, including natural disasters, wars, insurgencies, and public health emergencies. The Wisconsin Legislative Council concluded that public health was the only reason that could apply, but that would require a declaration of a state of emergency. Such a declaration does not exist, and Evers is unlikely to be able to declare a new state of emergency, the council concluded, given the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling against its attempt to renew the state of. emergency related to COVID-19.
Problems also plagued the suburban districts of Milwaukee. Driver shortages have caused problems getting sports teams to games and student organizations to competitions and events on time. In some cases, the shortages affected regular morning and afternoon bus lines. In some schools, planned field trips are compromised.
Milwaukee is far from alone in dealing with school transportation needs. Peterson said the MPS request followed the lead of Massachusetts, where the governor called in 250 National Guard members to drive student vans to school. Ohio schools have made the same plea.
The strategy of paying parents to send their children to school has also been tried elsewhere. Baltimore Schools have offered parents a stipend of $ 250 to bring their own children to school during the month of September.
At a Milwaukee school board meeting on Thursday, administrators said they had not yet determined how much they would pay families, how many families would be offered the payments, and how those families would be chosen. They said the program could start in early October.
Children who have been out for long periods of time
It is not known how many students continue to miss school or arrive late each day, in addition to disrupting the work schedules of family members or others who may intervene to transport them.
David Solik-Fifarek, director of commercial and transport services at MPS, said the district cut 200 buses from its fleet in September after bus companies failed to recruit drivers for them. He said the district is still short of 50 drivers, while drivers make more stops on each route and are often late.
Solik-Fifarek said the district had used a “sweeper service”, assigning bus drivers to pick up students on routes that did not have a regular driver, noting that there were “persistent problems which, we know, prevented children from entering the building for long periods of time. ”
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Some problems have been more sporadic as drivers are increasingly absent from work due to illness, quarantine or other issues.
Solik-Fifarek said the district aims to notify families of the issues by 6:45 a.m., time of the first round of pickup. They are asking these families to find another way to get the children to school. If that is not possible, bus companies will sometimes send another bus later in the morning, sometimes until 9:30 a.m., he said.
Students were robbed on Monday outside Rufus King International High School as they waited for a bus, according to Milwaukee police and a letter to the families of Principal Phyllis Anderson. A spokesperson for MPS declined to say if the bus was late, citing safety concerns over shared bus schedules.
Among the students left behind, many with disabilities are expected to be guaranteed bus services in accordance with their individualized education plans with MPS. Solik-Fifarek said about 20% of the routes that have encountered difficulties are those that serve students with special education services.
Alec Johnson of the Sentinel Journal staff contributed to this report.