Anchorage School District expects to resume suspended school bus routes by mid-October

Sep. 11—After the Anchorage School District suspended some of its bus routes last month, the district is expecting to resume its normal schedule by mid-October.

"Just based on the numbers of applicants who are currently in training to receive a commercial driver's license ... by mid-October, (we) believe we'll have enough drivers that we can suspend this program," district Chief Operating Officer Tom Roth said in a joint meeting with the Anchorage Assembly on Friday.

The route suspensions began in late August after eight of the school district's bus drivers tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibited symptoms. The larger shortage of workers also contributed to the decision to cut routes, the district said.

Title I school routes and students in special education programs were not affected by the suspensions.

Assembly member Forrest Dunbar asked schools Superintendent Deena Bishop on Friday if the district had considered vaccine mandates for school bus drivers, suggesting that policy could reduce the number of sicknesses and absences.

Bishop said she had no official recommendations during the Sept. 10 meeting, but said the district was discussing the topic.

"It is apparent that (the) workforce is being affected by illnesses through COVID," Bishop said. "We are exploring vaccination as well as testing for those that cannot be vaccinated at this time."

The school district and Reliant Transportation, a busing contractor ASD uses, usually have 240 to 250 drivers total.

District spokesperson Lisa Miller said in an email that the school district is short 15 drivers and Reliant is short 45, and there are 10 drivers in training.

Bus drivers aren't the only positions that the Anchorage School District is struggling to fill. On Sept. 10, the district had 277 open positions on their hiring website, from crossing guards to school psychologists and cafeteria workers.

The district is still offering ASD employees a $500 bonus for each new hire they refer to a regular position. Employees will receive an extra $500 if the hire stays with the district through the end of the school year, Miller said.