School Bus Generic (Photo: Pixabay.com)

There are currently about 7,250 Springfield Public Schools students signed up to ride the bus this year. Who wants to ride where, coupled with a persistent shortage of bus drivers, has led to some late-stage changes in who will receive bus service at the start of the school year and when one group of high school students will start and end their school day. 

“When you are trying to put the pieces together for 7,200 kids, and you don’t really know who’s enrolled and who isn’t enrolled until July, it takes three, four or five weeks to put it all together,” said John Mulford, deputy superintendent of operations. 

Students attending three SPS magnet schools — AgAcademy, Academy of Exploration and Wolf — will begin the year without bus service options. And SPS students taking part in the BASE Project have been moved from the second tier of class start and end times (8:10 a.m., 3:10 p.m.) to the third tier (9 a.m., 4 p.m.). BASE stands for Business Associated Student Education, and it is a special education program open to students age 16 and up that blends classroom instruction and on-site workplace experiences. 

“It’s a relatively small number of students, but it requires three buses because of how spread out (the program) is,” he said.

The reasoning behind it, he said, was to relieve pressure off of second-tier drivers by moving some of the routes to a later tier. The latest tier system was developed to address a shortage of bus drivers that continues to challenge SPS and school districts across the country. 

SPS needs 128 drivers to be at full capacity, Mulford said. Currently, there are 115 drivers onboard — more than the district had at any point last school year. There are a handful of potential drivers going through training as well, he said. 

Mulford said bus routing involves an ever-evolving set of circumstances. Along with the fluctuating number of drivers, he said there will be some students who signed up to ride who will never step foot on a bus, and some students who didn’t sign up who will be waiting at the bus stop on the first day of school. About three weeks into the year, Mulford said there will be a re-evaluation of who is and isn’t riding the bus, which could lead to tweaks in service and ideally the return of service to students attending the three magnet schools affected. 

“As soon as we get staffed, we get to bring it back,” he said. 

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson