A new success has been reported in the ongoing transportation crisis at Robbinsdale Area Schools. To the Robbinsdale School Board Jan. 5, Transportation Director Jeff Connell said that the completed bus re-routing program had successfully placed all students in need of transportation.
“At this point, we have every student in Robbinsdale that is eligible for transportation – all the students except for the ones in the walk zones or opted out for us – everyone else is on a bus or a van,” said Connell.
The district has struggled with offering transportation to its students since the first day of the 2021-2022 school year, leaving more than a thousand students without a consistent ride to school, and parents challenged to sacrifice work hours with long wait times at pickup and dropoff lines.
Connell said the district’s main challenge moving forward was an inability to fill routes when a driver fell ill or wasn’t able to attend their shift.
“Absenteeism is still a problem,” he said.
Connell reported that the day of the board meeting, the district transportation system had been short nine drivers, and eleven the day before. He said the primary reasons for the call-ins were due to lingering travel difficulties for drivers returning from winter break, and illness. He said the district continued to send email blasts of canceled routes to families “as soon as we know about our shortages.”
He acknowledged that despite the re-routing success, he knew that “frustration” with the day-to-day cancellation of bus routes was still “significant and there” for families of district students.
Connell also confirmed that reimbursement for families forced to transport their children to school was going to be negotiated. He said currently, the district was planning to negotiate with contracted bus company Durham Transportation Services for reimbursement funds.
“There’s a large number of contractual issues that exist between us, and so we’re going to work this out as part of that settlement,” Connell said.
He said discussions between Durham and District 281 were scheduled to begin the second full week of January, and weekly until issues were resolved.
Board Member Greta Evans-Becker requested information on the current training of new drivers. Connell said training and onboarding continued “unabated.” The system is still utilizing some out-of-state drivers, had relocated two training drivers to routes and is working to establish a back-up driver system.
“We won’t really be effective as transportation until we have the ability to cover routes that aren’t staff for the day,” said Connell.
Connell said others had been shifted to administrative work, and would not be utilized to cover shifts in the case of a driver call in.
Board Member Samir Sant asked whether there were more available back-up drivers due to the closure of Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in Plymouth and Sandburg Middle School in Golden Valley. Connell said while small adjustments could be made, like picking up a few stops of a canceled route, the closed schools didn’t free up enough for entire routes to be covered.
“It won’t get us to the point where we could actually take that bus driver, who would’ve been on one of those routes, and put them on a whole other route,” said Connell. “That would take more than just these two buildings going to distance learning.”