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Parkway 5th graders weigh in on district’s bus driver shortage, tackle issue for class project

The district is short 13 bus drivers, forcing district officials to make some tough decisions this summer ahead of the new school year.
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 7:27 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -A group of Oak Brook Elementary School students is digging into the bus driver shortage plaguing the Parkway School District ahead of a summer of tough decisions by administrators.

“I didn’t think anything of it, I didn’t think it was a big deal at first,” said Aralyn Borts, a 5th grader at Oak Brook. “But the more we researched it, I realized it was much worse than people were saying.”

The district is short 13 bus drivers, a problem many area districts have been facing for the last year.

“I thought we’d be in good shape by Christmas this last year, I’m surprised,” said Will Rosa, Parkway School District’s director of transportation. “I don’t know where everyone is at.”

Last month, the district sent a letter to parents outlining several options being weighed ahead of the next school year. The district is proposing ideas such as increasing the number of students on each bus and potentially having three students to a seat. It’s also looking at expanding its elementary and middle school walk zones from .5 miles to one mile. Neighborhoods that qualify within a walk zone are areas with sidewalks and areas that don’t require students to cross a major street.

One idea, in particular, is being met with pushback from parents; adding a fourth-tier school start time later in the morning, meaning elementary and middle schools would start and end later. In doing so, the district said it would allow bus drivers to drive more routes and decrease the number of drivers needed each day.

Jim Brougham has been a bus driver for the Parkway School District for six years. After spending three decades in law enforcement, he retired and decided to work as a bus driver part-time.

“The pay is good, benefits are good and look at these little guys, they’re fun,” he said.

Brougham said he drives routes in the morning and afternoon that are often separated by several hours, allowing him to get errands done.

“Most days, I come home and take a nap,” he said.

As the district looks for both short-term and long-term solutions, a group of classmates at Oak Brook decided to explore the topic more.

“When there aren’t enough drivers, kids have to get up even earlier because the buses come earlier to fit in more routes,” said Elsa Koenig. “No one likes getting up earlier and the bus drivers can get overworked.”

Koenig said she enjoys riding the bus and getting time to socialize with friends going to and from school. Having a nice bus driver like Brougham is a plus, she said.

“I like how nice our bus drivers are and talking to my friends in the morning and in the afternoon before we go home,” said Agrima Agrawal.

Classmate Madhushini Sathishkumar, who also worked on the project, agrees.

“It’s nice to have someone friendly saying hello and goodbye to you, especially if you’ve had a hard day,” she said.

The girls put together a PowerPoint and made posters to hang around town in an effort to attract more drivers. The project stemmed from a persuasive essay assignment in their writing class.

“They went above and beyond,” said their teacher, Tracy Garrett. “We do need bus drivers and that’s not something kids usually care about and these kids care,” she said.

To apply, call 314-415-8401. The Parkway School District offers health, vision, dental and life insurance, along with sick time and personal time off. Pay begins at $17.75 an hour with no experience necessary. Candidates are paid while training for their commercial driver’s license.