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Dr. Dave Ostash, Superintendent of Sierra Sands Unified School District / Laura Austin File Photo

School bus driver shortage impacts Sierra Sands

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–  

On Sunday, August 21, Dr. Dave Ostash, Superintendent of Sierra Sands Unified School District (SSUSD) notified parents and guardians: “Due to the impact of COVID, we will not have enough bus drivers to cover all of our routes for some number of days.” 

   Due to the remote location of Ridgecrest, staff shortages are something that SSUSD always needs to manage. He says, “We believe we should have 12 drivers to optimally run all of our routes. We started the school year with nine bus drivers; we have been understaffed by three bus drivers since we started but we’ve been combining some routes and just working really hard to cover the bases. But COVID has been impacting some employees and students throughout the district and, specifically, in our transportation department, to where we’re down to five drivers this week. We just can’t deliver all the routes. Necessarily by law, we are required to transport students who are guaranteed that through the IEP process, which is the Individualized Education Plan.” Only special education buses are currently running.

In an untimely twist of fate, on Thursday, August 18 the SSUSD School Board passed a resolution that was brought to them by the Business Department which eliminated charging fees for bus service. “We decided that we would no longer collect fees in order to make transportation accessible to everyone who needed it. And to eliminate any barrier or burden that it could be for anyone. So it’s just an irony that we increased access, we removed barriers for the utilization of our transportation department, and 48 hours later, we would have a temporary situation that actually very negatively impacted access.”

Ostash empathizes with the difficulties this brings to many families. “The bad news is that this is a real impact. And it’s for some people it’s a severe impact. The good news is it’s temporary and as our staff roll back into the workplace setting, back to being healthy, then we’ll be back in business for the full general education and special education routes.”

SSUSD is working hard to communicate with families about attendance, parents and guardians are stepping up and carpooling, helping each other out and when necessary, SSUSD excuses absences. “I recognize that the fact that we are excusing them is the right thing to do for the short term, but that’s really not a solution, excusing absences. If a student’s not there at the school, then the student is not getting the Learning Services and socialization that are really important to attending school. So while we’re doing the right thing by making those decisions, excusing the absences is not the solution. The solution is getting the student to school.”

Nationwide there is a teacher shortage, but as previously stated, this is not new for SSUSD. “We have been relatively fortunate,” says Ostash, “because whereas some districts and other parts of the country who haven’t had shortages have extreme shortage, our shortage is surprisingly pretty similar to where we have been in the last several years. We are covered in our classrooms. We do have some substitute teachers who are filling spots, they’re properly credentialed and they’re properly certified to be there; but, we are still looking for a few permanent teachers.”  

Ostash adds, “One more thing. If anybody is interested in a career in driving our buses or our vans please inquire with our Human Resources Department, 113 Felspar Avenue, 760-499-1620.  We welcome any application. We provide on site training to get your bus driver’s license. Great benefits, total compensation – You get wages, health and welfare, and pension. It can be a lot of fun.”