STILLWATER, Minn. — We are in the thick of back to school season.
Governor Tim Walz helped elementary students in Blaine kick off the school year Tuesday and kids in Minneapolis head back Wednesday.
Getting all those kids to school has been a mess in some districts, though, like Stillwater, where more than a dozen usual routes were cut because of a bus driver shortage.
At an emergency school board meeting Tuesday evening, some members said the first day of school went more smoothly than expected despite the problem.
Late last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Network said it was cutting service to 15 routes amid the driver shortage. The news forced the district on Friday to sue that company that provides bus transportation.
"We know this is very, very difficult and has placed a lot of hardships on our families," said Superintendent Malinda Lansfeldt.
The superintendent proposed four short term solutions, saying no one option solves the entire issue.
First, she discussed focusing on the priority routes that are two miles or more away, along with special education riders – all of which could include up to 1,600 students.
Second, the district could combine stops at centrally-located neighborhood hubs.
Third might be to adjust school bell times. And fourth, implement a transportation reimbursement for parents who drive their kids to school, up to 56 cents-per-mile.
Even some board members tried to lighten the mood by offering to drive a bus after no other company has applied to take on the routes.
"Not much is out there right now because we're not the only people in this situation or district," said Lansfeldt.
Meanwhile, the transportation company said it will continue to do everything it can to alleviate concerns, and over the weekend, it was able to hire seven new bus drivers.
The board said it could take up to two weeks to implement any one of the ideas, as it also continues to find new ways to recruit new drivers.
"We want to apologize to our families for this happening and we’ll try to get to a better place," said the superintendent.
Other districts across the state are struggling to find bus drivers, including Minneapolis, St. Paul and Anoka-Hennepin.
Minneapolis Public Schools need around 50 drivers, according to a spokesperson for the district, and are offering to reimburse parents who drive their own kids. New bus drivers are also being offered $3,000 in bonuses.
St. Paul Public Schools are 40-60 bus drivers short, and are considering using nine-passenger vans and Metro Transit routes to fill the gaps, according to Chief Operations Officer Jackie Turner.
A spokesperson for Anoka-Hennepin said the district estimates it's about 30 drivers short heading into the year, but it's unknown how the largest school district in the state plans to deal with that shortage.