WELD COUNTY, Colo. — A shortage of school bus drivers has a rural school district considering an option it is warning parents about.

On Monday, Weld County School District RE-3J sent out an email warning that there may not be enough space to bus Weld County Middle and High School students who pick up the buses from Lochbuie Elementary School 15 miles away. It read, in part:

"We are excited to transport your children again this school year! School will resume in just over one week. Unfortunately, our efforts to recruit and hire bus drivers has been difficult again this year, as it seems to be for districts across the state. If we are unable to hire drivers within the next week, we will start the year with 4-6 drivers fewer than what we need."

As a result, middle and high school students on routes from Lochbuie Elementary School will experience the effects of our driver shortage. Currently, only five (5) 71-passenger buses have been able to be assigned to these routes. Buses will need to transport at capacity (three per seat), and there may still be insufficient room for all students. If buses are full and there are still students unable to board, the buses will return for a second run. This will mean that students must wait for the buses to return, but they will receive excused tardies once they arrive to school. Please have a conversation with your child about the importance of school attendance and to not leave the bus stop if they are not able to board the first set of five buses."

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Weld County School District RE-3J covers Hudson, Keenesberg, Lochbuie and Roggen.

"The elementary school in Lochbuie is rather central to the location and so there are a great number of students that are within walking distance of that location. It is our largest area where we pick up," said Superintendent Greg Rabenhorst. "We also have a plan in place where we would have smaller buses that don't require CDL drivers to pick up students."

He said the district won't know until the first day on Aug. 15, if the five 71-passenger buses will be enough or if students will have to wait for at least one bus to unload and return, about a 45-minute roundtrip.

"With the support of their parents, I believe that they would wait," said Rabenhorst. "If there was inclement weather that would prevent them from waiting outside, we would have an alternative for them to wait in an area of the school."

Lack of school drivers is not unique to any one district.

Jefferson County School District, the state's largest, needs 18 drivers.

Last year, Greeley-Evans School District Six had to adjust bus routes and expand the distance students had to live to be eligible for a ride because the district was short 16 drivers.

Weld County RE-3J needs four-to-six drivers.

"We would also like to provide more buses just so students are more comfortable on the buses," said Rabenhorst.

What's working against areas like Weld County RE-3J and Greeley-Evans, is that CDL drivers are also needed in higher-paying industries.

"It is unique to areas like our district in that we compete with the oil and gas fields who require CDL drivers as well. And being a public entity like we are with a school district, we just can't compete with the rates that the private sectors can pay for those positions," said Rabenhorst. "Sometimes we get drivers who get their CDL through our training program and then they might leave for a better paying job in the private sector."

This is the full email:

August 6, 2018

Good afternoon Lochbuie families,

We are excited to transport your children again this school year! School will resume in just over one week. Unfortunately, our efforts to recruit and hire bus drivers has been difficult again this year, as it seems to be for districts across the state. If we are unable to hire drivers within the next week, we will start the year with 4-6 drivers fewer than what we need.

As a result, middle and high school students on routes from Lochbuie Elementary School will experience the effects of our driver shortage. Currently, only five (5) 71-passenger buses have been able to be assigned to these routes. Buses will need to transport at capacity (three per seat), and there may still be insufficient room for all students. If buses are full and there are still students unable to board, the buses will return for a second run. This will mean that students must wait for the buses to return, but they will receive excused tardies once they arrive to school. Please have a conversation with your child about the importance of school attendance and to not leave the bus stop if they are not able to board the first set of five buses.

Students will be assigned to buses again this year in alphabetical order by last name, and only students from a missing bus are allowed to ride on unassigned buses. Bus number assignments may be changed throughout the year for various reasons and/or as needed. Postcards will be mailed soon with your child’s bus number assignment. If you have not received this by Monday, August 13, please call the Transportation office at 303-536-2970. If you receive a postcard and do not intend to use district transportation, please also call to inform us. This will help us plan our routes most efficiently.

We apologize in advance for the inconvenience and the discomfort we anticipate with our bus driver shortage. Our plan above is a last resort scenario; however, we are concerned that we may have to do this given our current situation. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Our attempt is to be as transparent and communicate as often as necessary.

As always, if you or someone you know is interested in becoming a bus driver, please apply online at re3j.com. Feel free to call the transportation office for general information about our paid CDL training program, wages, or any other employment questions.

Thank you,

Skye Barefield

Transportation Coordinator