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CMS Launches Bus Survey To Prepare For January Return Of Older Students

School bus.jpg
Ann Doss Helms
School bus parked outside Gastonia's Bess Elementary School.

Updated 5 p.m. Monday.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is launching a transportation survey Monday, and the school board chair is urging parents to say “no thanks” to putting their kids on buses.

Between now and Nov. 30, CMS hopes to get a handle on how many students will report to classrooms in January — and how many of those will need bus rides.

The challenge is getting all grade levels to school with the spacing required for middle and high school students. At those levels, buses are limited to one student per seat, or 24 to a bus.

Last week, with 128 buses lacking drivers because of vacancies and leaves, the school board delayed the return of middle school in-person classes. Monday afternoon, Chief School Performance Officer Kathy Elling reported that the shortage has worsened slightly. The transportation vacancy rate rose from about 16% to 19%.

Staff and board members say ridership has been low on elementary school buses and CMS may be able to work with fewer buses and drivers if they can count on lower numbers.

Board Chair Elyse Dashew, who has a son in high school, says she and many other parents normally sign up for a spot on the bus even when they seldom use it. This year, she said, "we are pleading with every parent to take that survey, and if you feel that you can get by without a bus this year, do it."

By Nov. 30 parents also need to let schools know whether their children will attend in person or enroll in the Full Remote Academy for the second semester.

Elling presented a weekly COVID-19 dashboard that shows a similar vacancy rate among child nutrition workers. But she said CMS can find substitutes when cafeteria staff resign, take leaves or have to quarantine.

"Transportation is a very different situation," she said. "Our drivers require very specific licensure, and we have very limited access to supports in times when they are on leave or are impacted by the virus."

The only scheduled school board meeting before the Jan. 5 date when middle and high school students are scheduled to return is Dec. 8.