A school bus outside of Kenai Central High School advertises driver positions on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A school bus outside of Kenai Central High School advertises driver positions on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Staff shortage, gas prices change school bus routes

The changes do not apply to the district’s special education students

Multiple school bus routes are changing this school year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District announced Tuesday, in response to a shortage of drivers and high gas prices.

The changes apply to bus routes servicing Soldotna High School, Skyview Middle School and River City Academy, Kenai Central High School, Kenai Middle School, Mountain View Elementary School and Tustumena Elementary School. The changes do not apply to the district’s special education students.

With the first day of school less than a week away, the district was still short 12 drivers as of Thursday. That’s according to KPBSD Director of Planning and Operations Kevin Lyon, who said the district is bringing in temporary drivers who will help out until Apple Bus Company — now doing business as First Student — can hire new staff. Those temporary drivers, Lyon said, will come from other parts of the state where schools have not started yet.

High gas prices also contributed to the route changes, the district said. AAA reported on Thursday that the national average of gas per gallon has dropped to below $4 for the first time since March. However, the average price in Alaska is much higher at about $4.95 per gallon, AAA data show.

“Buses do not run on water,” Lyon said.

Tuesday’s announcement from KPBSD came a day before Anchorage School District Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt announced similar changes to school bus service in that district, also due to a shortage of bus drivers. Students in the Anchorage School District will have bus service for three weeks at a time, followed by six weeks without service.

Lyon said that KPBSD’s driver shortage is currently not as bad as in Anchorage, but that the district’s 12 out-of-area drivers are scheduled to leave the district on Labor Day. In the meantime, Lyon said First Student will continue recruitment efforts. The company, which operates independently of KPBSD, is currently offering a $2,500 signing bonus for new bus drivers, he said.

The shortage comes as the district continues to feel the impacts of a nationwide teacher shortage and dozens of support staff positions remain unfilled. As of Aug. 11, there were 86 open positions across the district and its 42 schools, many of which — 38 — were support staff positions.

The district has implemented multiple initiatives over the last year in an effort to fill vacancies. The district last year relaxed the requirements to become a substitute, offered teaching contracts earlier than usual for the upcoming school year and most recently approved raises for the district’s support staff positions.

Summary of route changes

Routes 108 and 122 have been combined to form an updated Route 108, which services Soldotna High School, Skyview Middle School and River City Academy. The bus on that route will only pick up students on the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways, with the exception of Silver Salmon Drive. The bus along this route will no longer travel down Feuding Lane or down E Redoubt Avenue.

Routes 123 and 127 have been combined to form an updated Route 127, which services Kenai Central High School, Kenai Middle School and River City Academy. The bus on that route will only travel along Kalifornsky Beach Road. All stops for Cannery Road and other side roads will be on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Route 144, has been added to Route 141, which serves Tustumena Elementary School. Route 141 will not travel down Pollard Loop; the stop will be on the Sterling Highway at the north end of Pollard Loop.

Names have also changed for multiple bus routes. Route 121 has been added to routes 120, 133 and 146. Route 127 is now Route 144.

More information about the route changes can be found on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Facebook page.

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