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Bus driver shortage causes longer commute for students

LAWTON, Okla._A shortage of bus drivers at Lawton Public Schools has begun to spark some concern with parents.

The LPS Transportation Department is shorthanded about 15 drivers, meaning they only have 90 drivers to share the 100 routes. As a result, some drivers have to drive two routes, and that's caused delays in getting students to and from school.

Pam Gillory has a 2nd- and a 4th-grader at Almor West Elementary. She says the bus her children ride home has been late before, but Thursday's 30-minute delay caused her to think the worst.

"At first I thought something happened. Then I wondered did they not get on the bus, were they missing, did something happen, was there an accident with the bus," Gillory said.

Gillory says when the bus has been late on other occasions, it was never more than five or 10 minutes. But Thursday’s tardiness prompted her to call the Transportation Department and find out where her kids were.

"They didn't know where they were, they didn't know when they were coming home and that's all they told me. And when I kept questioning, like how do you not know where my kids are, they were like we just don't know. And to me as a mom, that's unacceptable," Gillory said.

Director of Transportation Trae Koch says the shortage of drivers is far from ideal, but they are doing the best they can to get the kids home safely and as quickly as possible.

"We're working on the situation, we're aware of it and we're trying to put more drivers in place to be more efficient," Koch explained.

As it is now, being down 15 drivers, Koch says if any of the drivers call in sick, the remainder are left picking up the slack.

"They run double routes, so they're picking up one route, delivering, then running back and picking up the other route," Koch said.

Running double routes causes the delays that worry parents like Gillory, who says she would feel better about the delays if she knew where her kids were.

"School or Transportation should contact the parents if there's going to be a change in the route if they're going to be longer than ten minutes late coming home. Just let us know what's going on, so that way we're in the loop of everything that's happening," Gillory said.

Gillory said she spoke with Dr. Jamie Polk, the assistant superintendent, who apologized for the lack of information that was given to her. Koch says they do have a system in place for concerned parents that allows dispatchers and secretaries to be in contact with the buses and aren't sure how Gillory's case slipped through the cracks.

Koch says they will host another driver’s training school in October and that will hopefully get more drivers behind the wheel. If you are over the age of 18, have a good driving record and are interested in being a bus driver, contact Lawton Public Schools Transportation Department at (580) 248-3255 for more information.

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