The Edmonds School District has issued layoff notices to 175 bus drivers, and other districts are warning that they may have to do the same thing.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has told school districts that they’ll get the full transportation funding from September through January. But after that, funding will be recalculated to reflect, in part, how many students rode the bus in the fall and winter. That could lead to a big drop in dollars for districts that do remote learning, and some districts could wind up owing money to the state.
The Tacoma school board discussed the problem at a recent board retreat. The Tacoma district employs 56 bus drivers and contracts with First Student for approximately 118 additional drivers.
“Tacoma is clearly on the record advocating for the retention of our bus drivers and specifically stating that we don’t want to have to lay anybody off, but if they don’t fix it, we’re going to have to lay people off,” said Scott Heinze, president of the Tacoma school board.
When districts shifted to distance learning in the spring, they used bus drivers to deliver meals and educational packets to children. Tacoma Deputy Superintendent Josh Garcia said the ability to continue those deliveries is in jeopardy if the funding drops, and he said if the district has to lay off bus drivers, it would be tough to shift back to in-person instruction.
“We will not be able to turn around and restart in any kind of timely fashion,” Garcia said. “This is truly a crisis.”
The Tacoma district has joined others in the Puget Sound region in asking the Legislature to fix this funding issue. Dozens of superintendents, including from the Seattle, Bethel, Puyallup and Renton districts, signed a letter to the governor and lawmakers urging a solution.
"If drivers are furloughed or laid off, it will be nearly impossible and quite costly to recruit, hire, train, relicense and retest this workforce of 1,530 Washingtonians," the superintendents wrote.
State leaders are working on possible solutions, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal wrote in a letter to superintendents last week.
“The Office of Financial Management and legislative budget writers are fully aware of this and they understand they would need to take action during a special session or during the regular 2021 legislative session to address this problem,” Reykdal wrote.