EDMOND, Okla. — A local school district is tightening up its transportation service due to a school bus driver shortage described as “critical.”

Edmond Public Schools is consolidating bus stops in some neighborhoods and cutting service to other neighborhoods that are within 1 mile of a school. According to the district, the driver shortage forced the changes.

“Three weeks ago, we were down 17 drivers. In just a few short weeks, we have lost an additional 12 drivers for a total of 29 drivers to date,” said Kenny Chamlee, transportation director for Edmond Public Schools. “Without enough drivers, we will not be able to meet the daily demands of safely transporting students once school begins August 18.”

The district said that despite “aggressive” advertising, a number of open school bus driver positions remain unfilled. Meanwhile, the shortage prompted a re-examination of school bus routes to look for ways to boost efficiency.

“By consolidating an overabundance of bus stops in some neighborhoods and discontinuing service to a few neighborhoods which will affect about 170 or so students, we can significantly improve the service we provide to the 8,000 students who rely on us for transportation every day,” Chamlee said.

Oklahoma does not provide reimbursement for school bus service within 1 mile of a school. Even so, Edmond Public Schools has been providing such service as a courtesy for dozens of neighborhoods for many years. Due to the driver shortage, the district is now discontinuing courtesy service in 10 neighborhoods for the 2017-18 school year.

“We are only eliminating bus service in neighborhoods where students can safely walk to their neighborhood school,” district Superintendent Bret Towne said. “It’s a difficult decision but one that is necessary. We will carefully monitor the situation, and if the bus driver shortage improves, it’s possible that we could re-establish bus service to those affected neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, the number of school bus stops will be reduced in about two dozen neighborhoods.

“In some neighborhoods we have up to 20 stops, with drivers stopping every few houses,” Chamlee said. “By reducing the stops and asking students to walk just a bit farther, we can ultimately provide faster, more efficient service to all riders.”

Edmond Public Schools is continuing to recruit school bus drivers. The district's starting driver pay will increase from $12 per hour to $12.60 per hour with the expected approval later this month of a master agreement with the Support Employees of Edmond.

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