District desperately needs bus drivers

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By Carol A. Clark

Last summer the Los Alamos Public Schools lost four route drivers. Three drivers took jobs with Atomic City Transit and one, Keith Rosenbaum, was promoted to LAPS Transportation Division superintendent.

Rosenbaum briefed the Los Alamos Board of Education Thursday evening in the district boardroom regarding the status of his department, including the impact Atomic City Transit (ACT) and Park and Ride bus systems are having on his bus ridership.

The district is down about 500 riders, combining the high school and middle schools, from 800 at the beginning of the year.

“We can’t compete with the wages and benefits that Atomic City Transit offers,” Rosenbaum said.

County Transportation Manager Nancy Talley spoke about the situation this morning.

“We pay starting drivers with no experience $15.43 per hour,” she said. “Once they are trained and pass our six month probation period they move into level two and are paid $16.97 per hour.

Talley said the real difference is in the benefits.

ACT drivers are full time county employees who work eight or 10 hour shifts and receive holiday pay, sick leave and vacations.

LAPS drivers earn $16.79 per hour, which is not much of a difference but they don’t get a raise other than cost of living until they’ve been on the job for 10 years, Rosenbaum said. Also, the school’s drivers are only paid for actual driving.

They do not get paid for holidays, in-service days, three days at Thanksgiving, two weeks during winter break, one week during spring break or at all during the summer.

Because of the more direct routes offered by ACT, students spend less time on the bus, Talley said, adding that so many students at the high school are now riding ACT buses that it’s actually posing a problem because the county’s buses aren’t large enough to carry them all.

ACT is in the process of adding additional services and with that will be hiring five additional drivers, Talley said.

Another threat looming on LAPS’ horizon is the North Central Regional Transit District.

They are in the process of coming on board with routes between Santa Fe, Española and Los Alamos to begin in the fall or early January. They also are set to begin hiring drivers who will be paid on a fulltime basis with benefits, Talley said.

NCRTD is working with Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Santa Fe counties to coordinate routes and services, Talley said.

She also mentioned that a handful of communities are creating consolidated school transportation programs, adding that the idea would need to be studied if there was an interest in that type of program for Los Alamos.

Rosenbaum explained to school board members why ACT and the other bus systems pose such a threat to the district.

“Less riders affect funding levels,” he said. "The district needs more flexibility to allow bus drivers to become fully employed by the district in other positions. Cross-training drivers to do other jobs would allow this to happen."

To increase efficiency, he asked the board to consider staggering bell schedules for all days saying, "when all schools dismiss at the same time, buses cannot be at all schools at the same time."

Rosenbaum told the board that he did not have a full staff of “to and from school” drivers this year until May 7.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.