The Nevada Emergency Management Division has rejected the Clark County School District’s request for the Nevada National Guard to support the district’s bus driver corps, which is severely exhausted.
Not enough Guard members have the necessary commercial driver’s licenses and endorsements, and officials are reluctant to assume the risks and responsibilities of transporting children in the “very urban setting” of the Las Vegas area, according to the report. the state.
The CCSD, through the Clark County Emergency Management Office, has solicited 50 to 100 drivers from members of the Nevada Army and Air National Guard to deal with the shortage, according to a report. request made by the district on September 22.
“While the Guard may have staff capable of operating large vehicles, the risk to the benefits of having them with such valuable cargo as our state’s children on busy highways could not be mitigated in a short time. to make it an effective force, ”Dave Fogerson, the state’s emergency management chief, responded to Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Billy Samuels, who oversees the county’s emergency management, in a letter. September 24. “The practice of driving, both on the streets and on the course of the cone, for them to be proficient, is probably not achievable in a period of time that suits your needs. “
Sending the National Guard to drive children to school has become a stopgap in some states as a shortage of bus drivers hits schools across the country. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has activated 250 members of his state’s National Guard to transport students, at federal expense, to several districts. School districts outside of Cincinnati and Cleveland have called on the Ohio National Guard for help. The Philadelphia School District came up with the idea of bringing in members of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
The Clark County Emergency Management Office has contacted its state counterpart on behalf of CCSD to ask the Nevada National Guard to do the same. The education system in Clark County, the nation’s fifth largest, is down by about 240 drivers. It needs 1,570 drivers to be fully staffed.
Learning that it could not rely on members of the Guard to drive school buses, the CCSD said in a statement: “Currently, there is a nationwide shortage of bus drivers and the CCSD is continuously working to provide more. bus driver positions throughout the year in a variety of ways, including paid on-the-job training for qualified applicants, a one-stop shop to facilitate the application process, and create innovative ways to provide transport staff with a full-time employment where possible. ”
Fogerson denied the request to Clark County with an apology, citing several concerns and unease over the risk.
One is funding. The state has federal pandemic relief dollars, but Fogerson said he couldn’t “make a strong connection” to the COVID aid money, and apart from that source, the state has no funding stream. He estimated it would cost $ 500,000 per 50 Guard members, per month, to drive school buses.
Two: Not enough qualified drivers. The Nevada Guard has a transport unit, but not enough people with the commercial driver’s license, with the necessary endorsements for air brakes and passengers, that the district has requested. He also said there probably wouldn’t be enough volunteers, noting that the guard was recently unable to fill 50 positions to help tackle the ongoing wildfires in the West.
“I want to let you know that the state does not take lightly the need to continue in-person learning for our school children nor our responsibility to support our local governments,” Fogerson wrote.
Meanwhile, the school district is moving forward with a partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission to provide students in 15 high schools with free bus passes.
Students from Bonanza, Chaparral, Cheyenne, Cimarron-Memorial, Clark, Del Sol, Desert Pines, Durango, Green Valley, Las Vegas, Spring Valley, Sunrise Mountain, Valley and Western high schools who are already qualified for the bus will take the city buses switchboards that stop closest to their home and school. Liberty and Desert Oasis students will use an on-demand PSTN service.
Based on notices sent to parents this week, some CCSD stops for these schools will be eliminated when the program begins on October 11. The passes are free to students and can be used anytime, not just to and from school, and will cost the district around $ 1.17 million, according to a district purchasing document. .
And state emergency officials say they’ll see what else they can do to help, including asking the Nevada Department of Transportation how many employees they have with the appropriate driver qualifications. Seasonal snow plow drivers might be able to fill bus spots, Fogerson suggested.
The state will also see how many CCSD employees are also members of the Guard on active duty for the pandemic response who can be fired from their military assignments to potentially drive yellow buses.
“We don’t expect this to be much, but it looks like a number of additional staff will help the school district,” Fogerson wrote.
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