First Student has been transporting students in Helena since 2004, but now school district leaders say the company isn't meeting its contractual obligations.
First Student normally runs 61 bus routes in the Helena School District.
But Helena Superintendent Jack Copps says the company doesn’t have enough drivers right now to cover all those routes.
“That causes bus routes to be combined, that causes students to be late to their classes,” Copps said.
District leaders say that means First Student isn’t fulfilling the terms of its contract.
For the past few weeks, the district has been fining First Student $500 per day.
Copps says if the company doesn’t find a solution for the shortage, the district might consider terminating the contract.
“We have expectations, they have obligations, and it is their obligation to provide us with the drivers necessary to run all of the routes that we have,” he said.
First Student, based in Ohio, operates school buses for more than a thousand school districts.
Representatives say across the country, an improving economy is making it harder to find drivers.
“People have more options, which is great for the employee, but unfortunately harder for us,” said company spokesman Jay Brock.
First Student has already taken steps to address the shortage in Helena.
“We’re covering the routes with some local people, we’re bringing in some people from some other locations to help supply that pipeline, and we also do have a number of drivers in the pipeline right now,” Brock said.
The company says it will take some time to get more drivers ready to take on local routes.
Drivers have to receive 50 hours of training and undergo a thorough background check.
“We just don’t bring people in and put them behind the wheel and say go,” Brock said.
Copps says the steps First Student has taken are a good start, but more work needs to be done.
He’d like to see the company consider offering higher wages.
“Eventually, there needs to be a permanent fix here, and we need to have some kind of guarantee that those drivers will be available for these buses,” Copps said.