With ongoing shortage of school bus drivers, city continues to help Grand Forks public schools – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — After stepping up efforts to help Grand Forks Public Schools meet bus transportation needs at the start of the school year, the City of Grand Forks continues to help the school district by transporting students to and from from school.

The school year began with a scramble to find transportation for students after a shortage of bus drivers suspended services with Dietrich Bus Services, which is the company the school district has bus contracts with. . Along with the shortage of bus drivers, Dietrich’s seven-year contract with the school district expired last summer, leaving Dietrich to operate without a contract.

Despite the challenges faced by GFPS at the start of the school year, the city stepped forward to offer services to ensure that students would have transportation.

Public Transportation Division Director Dale Bergman said Cities Area Transit has helped by providing city bus drivers to drive Dietrich school buses on school bus routes. With five city bus drivers having the necessary school bus approval to drive a school bus, Bergman said they were able to make it work and even helped him by driving routes for school.

“We still have four bus drivers ourselves, but we’re getting by by doing a few shift changes,” Bergman said. “Supervisors, including myself as manager, drove to help.”

Bergman said the assistance given to the school district has had no impact on the city’s budget because the city is reimbursed for its services by the school district and Dietrich.

Chris Arnold, GFPS’ buildings and grounds manager who also oversees transportation, said bus services for most of the school year have remained consistent with city involvement.

“It’s gone through some variations of who drives which bus and maybe what area they’re served by the bus, but overall we’re back to what would be considered the new normal,” Arnold said.

Since the start of the school year, the academy has also renewed the contract with Dietrich, at the beginning of January. Arnold said they now have a five-year contact in place, with each year being renewable.

Even with the contract, it’s still unclear if Dietrich will have enough school bus drivers in time for next year. Dietrich did not return a request for comment for an update on the company’s school bus driver shortage, but Bergman said he had heard Dietrich was still looking for drivers.

“They keep in constant contact with us so we can see if we can get any pilots to help them or if we know of any pilots who apply or something because they’re trying,” Bergman said.

Arnold said the school district doesn’t know how much was spent on buses this school year and whether it would be more or less than what was spent in previous years.

“As far as spending goes, we’re still working on a lot of these bills because this school year has really been so irregular,” he said.

Bus driver shortages have been a constant challenge for the city. Bergman said shortages have been a trend for some time, although the pandemic has made shortages worse.

“I’ve been here 29 years and it’s the same, we’ve always been short and it’s a constant battle,” he said.

Despite the ongoing challenges of bus driver shortages, this school year was the first year the city had to assist the school district with bus transportation. Arnold said he hadn’t seen any shortages like this where the city had to help during his time working for GFPS.

“In my six years, last year was the first year we actually saw a shortage like this,” Arnold said.

Staffing shortages beyond bus drivers have occurred across the state and nation.

“It seems like no matter where you go or what you do, people are missing all over town,” he said. “And it’s not just in Grand Forks, if you go to Fargo or any of the other places, you see the shortages and you hear about them.”

At the start of the school year, it was unclear how long the city would need to help the school district, and whether the city will also need to help next year is still unknown.

Currently, the school district, city and Dietrich are entering into a Joint Powers Agreement that Arnold says will address school transportation needs and how it will continue to be covered to prepare for the potential need for assistance next school year.

“We have already started to prepare for this in the hope that we will not need it, but in case we do need it, we have the tools in place for the city to continue to help us provide buses to our students. “, said Arnold.

Even with the uncertainty that remains over whether Grand Forks schools will face school bus driver shortages in the fall, Arnold said the school district is grateful for the help the city has provided. .

“The city that helped us was greatly appreciated and got our kids to and from school and they were very fair with their prices to the school district for providing these services,” Arnold said. . “We are very grateful, it is a very good partnership that we can work together.”

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