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A school bus arrives at Bellwood Elementary School on July 31, 2019.

The Chesterfield County school system continues to wrestle with bus driver shortages just weeks before schools open, a year after a spate of driver vacancies plagued the system amid a shift in school start times.

The system has about 480 drivers and continues to make efforts to bolster those ranks, Calvin Frye, the school system's director of transportation, told School Board members on Monday.

School Board Chairman Rob Thompson said school officials this year are not expecting the types of bus delays the school system experienced when classes began in 2018.

Thompson added that bus delays, in general, are not an unusual occurrence for the school system.

"We expect delays every single year that we open school," Thompson said.

Frye said the system has been sending recruiters to open houses looking for new bus drivers.

"We have also been very aggressive at calling and contacting folks that have driven for us before. We had at least 14 drivers from the past that have shown interest in coming back in some way, shape or form," Frye said.

A key question for school administrators is how many bus drivers will choose to leave the system this month just before school starts. Some drivers stay through the summer and leave as their annual contract ends in August.

School Board member Carrie Coyer wondered why the school system couldn't simply devote staff members to helping students safely walk to school if they live nearby, rather than having to load up a bus to transport those pupils a short distance.

"There are lots of school divisions across this country, they hire crossing guards and everybody crosses the road and goes home,” Coyner said. "I'm wondering why we're not studying, again, our most walkable areas and putting staffing in place to make it safe to walk versus the use of a bus and a driver, which we're always in shortage of."

Nita Mensia-Joseph, the school system's chief operating officer, said the district has in the past examined the costs of undertaking that kind of initiative.

"I think it just gets down to money," Mensia-Joseph said. "I know the transportation budget has not been expanded from last year to this year."

Later this month, the school system plans to post on its website a connection to E-Link, where parents can get information about their child's bus route and bus stop. Paper lists of the locations of the bus stops are also going to be available at each child's school. The school district also plans to allow parents to download a mobile application, MyStop, to let them track in real time where their child's bus is located as it drives along its route.

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sgorman@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6885

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