Carson City School District’s transportation department is experiencing shortages, with supervisor Cheri Fletcher reporting she has gone from having two bus drivers on medical leave to four who are out.
“We can go anywhere else but we want to stay in our community,” Fletcher told school board trustees March 28. “I can retire here, but I’m losing more drivers than I’m getting.”
Two days later, her staff had a day “for the books” as drivers and bus attendants made quadruple trips on their routes after families woke up to another morning of snowy weather. Students waited at their stops, drivers scrambled to cover multiple schools and Fletcher had to prioritize and consolidate more than usual.
“It’s tough,” she said March 30, in her office at the district’s transportation yard on Robinson Street. “I’m pulling my hair out. I’m getting calls from parents. We don’t have people because we don’t pay enough. Why? My biggest point: We are the capital. Why aren’t we setting the example?”
With staff present at the board meeting, Fletcher implored trustees to make driver and bus attendant wages fair and comparable to other Nevada school districts.
Fletcher, who has been in the department for 25 years and a supervisor for eight years, said the department currently has 16 regular bus routes and nine special education routes, which take priority.
Fletcher said she continues to work with an aging bus fleet and crew. Carson City’s oldest bus was manufactured in 1995, but the majority were made in 1998 with a few special education buses built in 2019. And while she has a younger driver, some are about 55 with one who is older than 60. More help is needed in dealing with CCSD’s “rolling classrooms,” Fletcher and sub driver Jessica Weisser said.
“You have all these kids,” Fletcher said. “Jessica is doubling two routes, and the kids are just out of control and you have to deal with that behind you.”
Drivers and attendants have to give out white slips for poor behavior, which has seen an increase with students being doubled up on buses to help meet the demand on routes, going from 40 or 50 up to 77 students per trip. Students used to a schedule now arrive at school late and miss breakfast, and drivers aren’t getting their breaks or are dealing with road construction or snow.
“You need a CDL (commercial driver’s license),” she said of the requirements. “They’ve made the application process a little easier. It’s annualized.”
Applicants must pass four written tests at the Department of Motor Vehicles, acquire their permit, take their test in Reno and submit to pre-employment and drug screening.
Brian Lee, executive director of the Nevada State Education Association, on Tuesday said he came to offer solutions for Carson City, with Elko County School District offering a starting wage of $23.50. He acknowledged Elko’s “unique challenges” but said making the adjustment has resulted in fewer driver and attendant vacancies.
Lee advised against one-time bonuses because drivers enter the county, become trained and leave because a school district is challenged to compete with Regional Transportation Commission or other employers’ wages. He described NSEA members living in unstable housing situations, whether it’s in their own vehicle or at campsites, because their wages aren’t enough.
“Many of the members behind me do their jobs because they love working with the children, they love working in their communities but they can’t pay the rent with love and best wishes,” he said. “They have difficulty making ends meet to a larger extent than before.”
Weisser said it was helpful to have Trustee Richard Varner ride a bus recently to understand staff’s concerns and ask her what improvements could be implemented.
“There’s so many benefits to being a driver here in Carson, not only for the actual benefits that you get and having the same schedule as a school district,” she said. “But it really comes down to the pay and being able to make at least a living when inflation’s gone up.”