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Spokane Public Schools to use public transit, other alternatives to address shortage of drivers

Rebecca White
About 80% of Spokane Public School High School students are well served by Spokane Transit Authority bus routes. This next school year, a majority of those students will be given passes to take the bus to school.

Spokane public school leaders say they’ve developed several solutions to the shortage of bus drivers.

The school district will contract with a third-party school focused van service to provide transportation to students with disabilities, students in special programs and students experiencing homelessness. About 80% of high school students will take public transit buses.

Shawn Jordan, chief operations officer for Spokane Public Schools, told the school board Wednesday that all bus drivers had seen a pay increase to help with recruiting.

“I want to remind folks that this is not just a Spokane Public Schools challenge, but one that other area school districts have experienced, as well as school districts across the state and the nation,” Jordan said. “One of the strategies to mitigate the challenges that we've experienced the previous year is increasing the staffing.

He said there are more than 30 drivers in training, or in the screening process. In addition to using public transit and a van service, more students will also walk to school. All high school and middle school students that live within a one and half mile radius must walk. Elementary school students must walk if they live less than a mile away, which was the district’s policy before the shortage. The district has also consolidated the lowest usage yellow bus stops to make up for the shortage of drivers.

School Board member Jenny Slagle said free bus passes for students, along with the recent expansion of free school meals for all, will likely help youth outside the classroom.

“I just wanted to say thank you to the STA Board for approving that resolution for the zero fair,” she said, “Between our free lunches and transportation, we're on our way to reducing barriers to these social determinants of health.”

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.