SCSD9 discuss driver shortage, COVID funds

SUBLETTE COUNTY – A shortage of bus drivers posed logistical challenges during busy weeks this fall, Sublette County School District No. 9 Superintendent Dr. Charles Jenks told the board of trustees on Nov. 16.

Jenks stated the district considered calling parents to pick up students and condensing routes on several occasions when the transportation department lacked the staff to bus students to activities while covering normal bus routes.

Jenks predicted the transportation problem would worsen as winter sports create a higher demand for drivers.

During discussions with transportation department staff, Jenks said wages and the lack of benefits were high on the list of obstacles to recruitment and retention.

The bus driver shortage affected school districts across the state, and Jenks reached out to colleagues to learn about solutions they implemented. Responses included offering bonuses, combining routes, staggering bus routes with an extra period and creating full-time, benefited bus driver positions.

Jenks planned to survey school districts across the state to determine what solutions were the most popular and worked well and return to the board of trustees with several options before winter sports picked up.

The goal was to “be proactive about getting kids home” before the problem became severe, Jenks said. He hoped to have incentives in place to employ several substitute drivers as backup this winter.

The trustees agreed to consider any proposals Jenks presented. Chairman John Fear requested district staff compile cost estimates for each option.

COVID-19 update

The number of students out of school in isolation and quarantine due to COVID-19 dipped under 1 percent in November, significantly lower than rates recorded in September, Jenks reported.

The school district posted its COVID-19 mitigation plan on Friday, Nov. 18, Jenks told the Examiner. The mitigation plan is required for the district to receive $865,000 in federal COVID-19 relief through the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

The SCSD9 COVID-19 mitigation plan does not contain mandates on vaccines, masking or testing, Jenks told the board on Nov. 16.

The district formed a committee to “gather input from a variety of stakeholders” consisting of staff, parents students and community members to explore ways to use the money to benefit the district, Jenks stated to the Examiner.

The committee consists of the district’s business manager, school principals, the technology coordinator and the superintendent, Jenks added.

Jenks also discussed the federal vaccine mandate proposed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, with the trustees. The district employs more than 100 people and would fall under the mandate to vaccinate employees or test those with exemptions.

The district’s attorney advised SCSD9 to postpone enforcing the OSHA mandate until various lawsuits filed against the mandate played out in the courts, Jenks reported to the board.

OSHA suspended enforcement of the federal vaccination mandate on Thursday, Nov. 18.

Additional district news

  • Trustees voted unanimously to accept approximately $823,000 of federal grant monies into the 2021-2022 budget. The motion did not include the pending $865,000 ARP ESSER grant discussed above.
  • The board approved a special education contract for the 2021-2022 academic year not to exceed $15,000. The contract is to provide additional counseling services through Teton Behavioral Health and special education training, Jenks said. Funds to cover the cost are available through federal COVID-19 relief grants, Jenks added.