School bus driver shortage in Calcasieu Parish

Updated: Apr. 26, 2021 at 7:38 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Calcasieu Parish schools are experiencing a bus driver shortage resorting in frequent bus splits across the district.

Splits happen when drivers have to pick up more than just their normal route. For example; a driver will finish their normal pickups then go back out and pick up part or all of another route.

A growing number of parents are voicing their concerns about school transportation in Calcasieu Parish because splits change pickup times, making things confusing for both parents and kids.

Waiting for the bus, unsure of when it will come, some Moss Bluff students experienced another bus split Monday morning. One parent said that some days, she doesn’t get notified about the split until 15 minutes before regular pick up and other days doesn’t get notified at all.

“Every week, and the past couple weeks it’s been every day,” said parent Katherine Hill. “You wake up every morning like, ‘Oh my gosh is the bus coming today? Please come today. Please don’t have a bus split, please.’”

Parents like Hill are among the frustrated in her Moss Bluff neighborhood, and she’s not the only one.

“Consistency would be great because, I mean, as families, we’ve all got to plan to get them ready for school. It’s tough on everybody in the house,” said parent Rusty Shackford.

The Calcasieu Parish school system is aware of this issue and is looking to hire more drivers. According to school officials, the parish transports over 15,000 students to and from school everyday, not including transportation for sporting, other school programs, or school events outside the classroom.

“We do have a little bit of a bus shortage right now,” said CPSB Chief Operating Officer Robert Barrentine. “With COVID issues, you might have sick drivers and also just retirements from COVID, and we’re trying to replace those drivers as well.”

Barrentine said that lack of bus drivers isn’t just an issue in Calcasieu Parish. It is happening to school systems across the state. He said there is only about 300 drivers operating currently opposed to 350, but despite the shortage, drivers are still opening their doors to make sure students get to and from school every day.

“I have routes split all the time, too, and I mean, we get them there, and we get them home,” said Andrea Matte, CPSB bus operator.

Matte runs her route in Moss Bluff. She said that COVID capacity limits are also affecting bus splits, but agrees the lack of drivers is the biggest factor.

“We would like to have a phone call the day before the bus split happens,” Hill said. “We need time to prepare for that.

Matte said she hears the frustration from parents, but when drivers get sick or something else comes up, that’s not typically planed a day in advance.

“It has to be split last minute, and we notify transportation, and then transportation has to notify the school,” Matte said.

The Calcasieu Parish School Board does offers free CDL classes for those interested in becoming a school bus operator. The next session for those classes will begin in July.

For more information, you can call the transportation department at (337) 217-4330, or CLICK HERE.

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