Rio Rancho schools continue to face shortage of bus drivers

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RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Staffing at schools seems to be an obstacle every year and the pandemic has only amplified those shortages.

The shortages, coupled with supply chain delays and COVID protocols, have really made for some transportation woes at Rio Rancho Public Schools.

Right now, RRPS officials said they are about nine bus drivers short. They are still managing to cover all the routes, but even one extra stop for a bus can lead to some delays.

“Anyone that can drive a bus is driving a bus,” said Melissa Perez, spokesperson for RRPS.

A staffing shortage is just part of the problem. They have 64 routes and only 55 drivers to transport more than 8,000 students.

“Anytime they cover anything extra, of course, they are going to run late,” said Lynn Carl, executive director of transportation at Rio Rancho Public Schools. “So parents and schools have been experiencing late buses since the beginning of school.”

Those shortages are impacted even more with COVID-19 protocols.

“It’s not like it used to be, where you had a cough of sniffles you can come into work. It does not work that way anymore, so it’s a huge impact on everyone,” Carl said.

Then, there are further delays due to disruptions in the supply chain. She said it now takes weeks to get in parts for general maintenance that used to only take days. One bus is out of commission, waiting on a part.

“It’s already been down a couple weeks and they’re estimating maybe 26 weeks. That’s the best they can estimate,” said Carl.

What it all really boils down to is a delay in service for Rio Rancho students and families.

“We hope the supply chain issues are resolved soon but if they’re not we do have our staff that is all hands on deck. We do have some alternate options we can purse but hope we don’t have to get there,” said Perez.

Other options include extending the walk zones, meaning fewer students would be eligible for services. Another option could be creating "super stops," meaning there would be fewer stops.

RRPS hosts a job fair the first Wednesday of every month. It’s at their administration building, 500 Laser Road, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. They tell applicants to come dressed for an on-site interview.

RRPS is hiring for all positions, but said they will provide training for those bus driver positions.