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Ripon Unified faces bus driver shortage
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Ripon Unified still has some tweaking to do with its transportation.

Come next year, buses will be shuffling students currently attending Weston School to the other elementary school sites when construction begins this summer. Couple that with a new housing development, Meritage Homes.

“The drive time there is 20 minutes,” said Susan DaBranca at last Monday’s school board meeting. “We’re having to go back and forth (to Meritage Homes).”

For that route, she indicated that a fourth morning/afternoon driver would be needed to accommodate the housing development.

As for the upcoming Weston deployment – students from that campus would go to Park View, Colony Oak, Ripona and Ripon Elementary during the 2014-15 school year – DaBranca estimates the use of four to six drivers to handle the job. “We just don’t have the extra drivers,” she said.

One solution, DaBranca noted, is the use of long-term subs at least until the Weston renovation is completed.

Another possibility is utilizing qualified custodial and maintenance staff. “The problem there is it creates a huge impact to the school sites (where they work),” she said.

DaBranca mentioned perhaps bringing in non-RUSD transportation such as School Pupil Activity Buses, which are commercial buses hired by a district to transport students.

RUSD is short staffed on drivers.

“Previously, we had five part-time bus drivers and now we’re down to two part-time drivers (for sporting events and field trips),” DaBranca said.

RUSD has four back-up drivers where once there were 15 to 20. She indicated the reason for the back-ups being whittled down was due in part to cuts over the years to the custodial staff.

“It’s not an easy process to obtain bus certification,” said DaBranca. “There’s testing with the Department of Motor Vehicle and the California Highway Patrol.”

Drivers, in addition, must maintain yearly training, take physicals, and renewal is necessary every five years.

Along with the buses, RUSD currently has five seven-passenger vans – 2005 models or older with over 70,000 miles each – two six-passenger minivans, and a car.

DaBranca, in her report, believes four additional seven-passenger vans for student transportation could be cost efficient, especially for coaches and staff, over that of a bus.