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Ellensburg schools are struggling to find a daily start and end time due to the lack of bus drivers. Schools are currently using a tiered transportation model, which has secondary level schools starting and ending around an hour and 55 minutes later than elementary schools.

The Ellensburg School Board has stated the community has spoken out against this model because of the difficulty it causes families when organizing their morning and afternoon schedules.

However, over the last year the ESD has lost 13 of its 39 bus drivers for a variety of reasons, leaving this tiered system to be one of the only options, simply because the district cannot provide transportation to all students.

The district has been working to hire new drivers, but the deadline for drivers to apply in order to work the 2021-22 school year was April 29, this has since been extended to May 12 after the district received just one new applicant. The district still needs another four to five more applicants to return to the old model.

A complete report of the district’s findings will be presented at the ESD Board Study Session on May 12.

“If implementing a transfer system is not possible (due to a lack of drivers), then the goal for ESD for next year is to narrow the gap of time between when the first tier of students are dropped off and when the second tier of students are dropped off,” Superintendent Jinger Haberer told the Daily Record via email.

The way the district hopes to narrow the gap is to move up talks regarding a restructured boundary system. According to Haberer, this would mean creating zones of attendance for individual schools. This would be a “multi-layered process” that would consider things like traffic patterns and geological locations.

The discussion to create this model would have occurred in the fall of the 2021-22 school year, in preparations for when the new elementary school Ida Nason Aronica would open in 2022-23, which would have forced the district to re-evaluate the transportation model anyway. When Ida Nason Aronica does open, the district will likely have to move to a tiered start system at that time even if the boundary system is installed by the 2021-22 school year.

“Mr. Engle (Eric Engle, ESD Transportation Director) and his transportation department, they were already working on the 2022-23 boundary model for us,” ESD Executive Director of Business Services Brian Aiken said during the April 28 board meeting. “That’s the only reason that we can even consider doing that a year early… It’s not a question of can we do the boundaries and shave off time on the delivery, we can cut that down to an hour or hour and fifteen minutes at the longest. … But where there are huge challenges and it’s a big task is to put that in place for next fall.”

The district is also having conversations with City Transit and HopeSource to possibly share bus driver resources. The district has enough school buses to transport students, but lacks drivers. Working with these systems has the chance to provide these drivers.

However, at an informational meeting on May 3, Haberer stated the city told her partnering would be difficult, however it promised to share the ESD bus driver openings with its staff.

All options are still being considered by ESD, and the possibility of returning to the old start time model is still technically on the table, but the district is running out of time to find new bus drivers. The district will not make a decision until after the discussion and deadline on May 12.

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