The national bus driver shortage is hitting Laurel, forcing the school district to make the difficult decision to cut its bus routes in half to six.
“We’re down to five drivers. So five drivers to run 12 routes, plus the special ed, plus the Yellowstone academy, we just can’t do it,” said Laurel Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Linda Filpula Wednesday.
Districts are required to pick up kids who live three or more miles away from schools. Starting Jan. 3, kids who live less than three miles away will have to find a new way to get to and from school.
“It’s really frustrating,” said parent Andrea Albers, who lives north of Laurel across from the cemetery.
Albers is a working mom with three kids who ride the bus.
“By the time I got to go to work, my kids don’t have a way to get to school,” said Albers.
Her husband is a pilot, which means he’s often out of town for work. Getting the kids to and from school rests on Albers’ shoulders.
“My family lives in Billings so in order for help from them, I have to bring them in from Billings to take my kids to school. So that’s kind of a pain in the butt,” Albers said.
Parents like Mindy Bausch are also frustrated with the timing of the announcement.
“Absolute panic, cause I don’t know how I’m going to try to work schedules out,” Bausch said.
Bausch and her husband both work long hours at the CHS refinery. They will not be sending their kids to school on days they have to work, if there's not a safe option to get them there.
“We have a little girl that lives right down from us, and her bus route was canceled as well. She lives on Highway 10, so she’ll have to walk the entire way to school on Highway 10,” Bausch said.
The superintendent says the district's hands are tied.
“This is not anything we wanted to do. We’re simply forced to do (it) 'cause we can't transport. There’s not enough room on the buses,” Filpula said.
The district is looking at solutions, offering stipends to bus drivers to alleviate the shortage.
“We’ve looked at purchasing 10 passenger vans so that we can use those on some of these routes," said Filpula.
However, parents are now in limbo wondering what they’ll do when the spring semester begins.
“These are not safe solutions. They're not safe solutions, and while some of the people around here don't have the ability to have other people pick up their kids, there’s a lot of families that don’t do that,” Bausch said.