FAIRBANKS, Alaska — At least 26 of 137 public school bus routes were late for the first day of school in Fairbanks.
A listing on the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District website says the buses were late Monday, and school district Chief Financial Officer Lisa Pearce said she is “beyond frustrated” with students arriving late to school.
Pearce said the school district is continuing to put pressure on First Student, the transportation contractor, to improve.
“It’s a big problem,” she said. “We have been very clear that this isn’t going to fly.”
Buses were late on and off throughout last year at the school district. Pearce said the situation has not improved.
The school district earlier this year accused First Student of breach of contract.
Pearce said, based on what she is hearing from schools, they are underreporting the number of late bus routes. The company has also failed to staff all of the bus routes outlined in the contract, she said.
Chris Kemper, director of external communications for Ohio-based First Student, said Wednesday the company has sent a vice president to Fairbanks to look into the perennial issue of late school bus routes, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://bit.ly/2xwQtG2 ).
“Certainly, our level of service has not been what the community expects of us,” Kemper said. “I don’t know if we are in a position to talk about solutions quite yet.”
School bus transportation continues to be a problem for public schools nationwide as a driver shortage persists.
Advertising, bonuses and pay boosts are some of the tools being used by transportation contractors to attract more drivers.
Starting pay for drivers in Fairbanks is $19.50 an hour. The nationwide average of school bus driver pay rose from $16.24 an hour to $16.90 in 2017, according to School Bus Fleet, a trade publication.
Fairbanks area school bus drivers are members of Teamsters Local 949. Union officials did not respond to multiple voicemail messages for comment.
Schools affected by late buses this week include Salcha Elementary School, Weller Elementary School, Pearl Creek Elementary School, North Pole Middle School and North Pole High School, among others.