TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — While Tucson Unified School District schools and families cope with the challenge of mask rules and going to school during a pandemic, they have a new challenge now just getting their kids onto a school bus.
TUSD’s bus system often has a rough couple of days when the school year begins but this year parents are steaming over a last minute change that took away neighborhood bus stops and left them scrambling to get kids to school.
TUSD buses move about eight thousand kids and need 230 drivers to do it. But the district is 70 drivers short.
An ad campaign did not attract enough drivers. Neither did raising the pay from $12.90 an hour to $16.
So one day before the first day of school, TUSD announced it’s stopped regular bus routes and switched to a system of hubs where buses pick up and drop off at certain schools and parents have to get children to and from those spots.
At a transportation forum just one night before the hubs kicked in parents like Laura Farrell Wortman made it clear to Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo they do not like the change.
She said, “Because of this monumental screw up, children are going to be left alone, guaranteed. Parents are gonna lose their jobs, some of them. You have to own that, and frankly I think if you own that you might consider resigning.”
The district says the hub system could make parents drive up to three miles to get children to school or to bus hubs---Parents say it could be even farther--- if they even have a car---and they could struggle to change work schedules to do it.
Superintendent Trujillo apologized, and conceded he held on to hope of hiring enough drivers, so he waited too long to commit to the hub system and tell parents about it.
He says parents can get grants to help cover the costs of finding alternate ways to get kids to school.
“The formula for each student is different. Some payments might be $50, other payments might be $70. Others might be over $100. It's going to depend on the distance, we're going to examine each family's request individually, do the calculation, and of course, issue the payment, no questions asked.”
The superintendent says to ease child care issues schools will open earlier and stay open later to offer children a safe place to stay while the district continues to try to find enough drivers to go back to neighborhood bus stops.