COTTONWOOD, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — When a school superintendent in Yavapai County heard the National Guard in Massachusetts was helping drive kids to campuses in Massachusetts, he thought, "why not here?" Steve King is the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District superintendent and says they always have to think outside the box.
A spokesperson for Gov. Doug Ducey confirms it got a request for help from the Arizona National Guard and they are just looking into it. Adequately staffing school bus routes is an issue not just in Arizona, but across the country. The governor of Massachusetts recently activated 250 members of the state's National Guard. They will be trained to help take kids to and from school until they can fill bus driver positions.
It's unclear if that will ever actually happen in Arizona, but the importance of transportation is clear in King's district. "Many of these children are living in remote areas. Their only access to school is by riding the school bus," King said.
He says close to 60% of students in his district ride the bus. It spans a large geographical area with five campuses and roughly 1,800 students. King says while the transportation department is remarkable, they need three more drivers.
"Not only have they made their routes, they have also provided for the after-school activities, the sports activities, field trips and so on," King said. "So so far, so good, but we're one driver away from being short."
King's district is certainly not alone. Tim Carter, the Yavapai County School superintendent, says 80% of his districts are looking for drivers.
"This is a statewide issue," Carter said. "And it has been going on, but it's definitely gotten worse as a result of the influences of COVID. And we're just trying to find any possible solution. So if we know of anybody out there that's looking for a job, we'd be more than happy to talk to them."
For now, Carter says there are ongoing discussions in some districts about possible incentives to hire drivers.
This week the Dysart Unified School District announced it would be increasing wages for drivers this year using money from a federal program called Medicaid in Public Schools. In a statement, a spokesperson for the district says it "is a federally funded program that allows school districts to bill Arizona's Medicaid program (AHCCCS) for reimbursement of some of the services provided to Medicaid/AHCCCS eligible special education students at school."
Next year the money for the raises will be from an inflation increase and through the normal budgeting process. Since the announcement this week, the district noticed an uptick in applicants. It got 10 new applicants for 18 open jobs and a number of phone calls.