KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Académie Lafayette Elementary students head back to school in just two days.
But transportation for hundreds of elementary families who take the bus is still in the works, something the charter school didn’t see coming.
“We were scrambling,” said Paul Mensching, director of operations and maintenance at Académie Lafayette.
According to Mensching, First Student, who the school uses for buses, said they didn’t have enough drivers to provide transportation for students at the Cherry campus location in Midtown KCMO.
“It takes a lot of people to solve those issues, and it’s last minute; it really presents an issue for our students and our parents in particular,” he said. “We sympathize with them, and we are just trying to do the best we can and get kids in school.”
Now, elementary families are scrambling to make sure the desks are filled.
“We had five day’s notice, but really it feels like zero at this point,” said Liz Icenogle, whose child attends Académie Lafayette.
Icenogle says this changes everything for families and the bus company’s delayed communication and notice isn’t enough for families who were counting on them.
“I just can’t stomach it, it’s just really hard to hear and it’s so unfair,” Icenogle said. “She’s a first grader, so it’s going to be difficult for her. My husband and I both work full time. We live about 20 minutes away from the school, we love the school, we love this community and we want to make sure we are a part of this community, but it’s going to be really hard. We just don’t know."
Mensching said school officials remain in contact with First Student to seek solutions.
“Talking to First Student today, they could double tier the routes, which means they are going to run two separate routes," he said. "So we could run our Oak campus one and our Cherry campus next — it means it would start our schools at different times."
They’re now racing the clock to make these decisions.
“The concern is just notifying parents and teachers about when you’re going to start school,” he said. “Do we start at 7:30 in the morning? 8 in the morning? Do we start at 8:30? Just trying to adjust those times. Again, if we had enough advance notices, we could come up with solutions, but we are trying to adjust on the fly.”
Changing work schedules, carpooling and sibling adjustments are all being weighed.
“It likely means we are going to have to pay for some version of before-or-after care out of our own pocket that we weren’t anticipating or budgeting for,” Icenogle said.
First Student sent KSHB 41 the following statement:
“Thanks for contacting us. While our goal is to ensure transportation service resumes as seamlessly as possible following summer break, there continues to be a need for school bus drivers nationwide, including in the Kansas City area.
Routes for Academie Lafayette are being impacted. Depending on daily staffing levels, some of the school’s nine routes will have to be combined. While this can create delays, it enables us to provide service to as many students as possible.
We understand the importance of what we do, which is why we continue to actively hire, recruit and train new drivers. Wages start at $20 an hour with sign-on bonuses of up to $3,000. We encourage those who are interested to apply online at workatfirst.com [workatfirst.com].
Our applicant flow is steady, and we do have driver candidates in various stages of training. We hope to add them to our workforce in the coming weeks. We are keeping Academie Lafayette continually informed of our driver status, so their families can plan accordingly.”
Académie Lafayette said this plan could change later on — while they contract out for elementary school bus drivers, they have their own bus drivers for middle and high school students.
They’re looking at all options.
Académie Lafayette said there are about 150 bus riders at the Oak elementary school and about 170 for the Cherry elementary school.
“Just be patient with us,” Mensching said.