Snoqualmie Valley School District’s transportation staff stand out in the school bus lot as they prepare for the upcoming school year. From left: Jim Garhart, Maggie Clark, Robin Dawson, Angie Wing, and Douglas McKay. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Snoqualmie Valley School District’s bus tracking services keep parents informed

Preparing a student for the school year gives parents a lot to think about, including how their children will get to the schools themselves. This year, the Snoqualmie Valley School District has two services that will help parents get more information on the district bus routes.

By using both the new E-Link and Bus Bulletin services on the district’s website, parents can find out which bus route their children are on, what time the bus is expected to arrive in both the morning and afternoon, and they can receive updates on bus delays by phone, email or text.

E-Link was implemented on Jan. 1, and is being brought back again for the 2017-18 year. To use it, parents select the grade levels of their students and enter their home addresses. The website will tell them what bus routes they are on, where the nearest, safest bus stop is in walking distance and what the time the bus is scheduled to arrive.

E-link gets information from an internal bus route planning program called Versatrans. Angie Wing, transportation technician at the school district, works with bus drivers and parents to adjust the bus routes each week in Versatrans. Wing is able to adjust each of the routes to make sure the buses arrive at the schools on time and on schedule.

“The way for a parent to find out that information in Versatrans, in regards to their stop, what time that bus will be at their stop, it also tells them about their school of residence based on their boundary of wherever they live,” Wing said. “So let’s say they are a middle schooler, if they are up in North Bend it is going to default to Twin Falls. So it will figure that out for someone thinking about moving to the district, they can enter their prospective address, figure out what school boundary that would be in and E-Link can help with that.”

By finding the appropriate bus route through E-Link, parents can also sign up for notifications on any delays or changes on that route through Bus Bulletin.

“If I was new to the district I would use E-Link to find out what my stop is, what the route number is, and then I would go into Bus Bulletin and put in ‘I want to be notified for route 37.’ It gives you options,” Wing said. “A driver will call in when they are 10 or more minutes late, if they are slowed down at the school, or there is construction, there is an accident on I-90 they are delayed on the freeway to get up to the Ridge.”

Wing said that communication between the bus divers and the administration in the office is key to making sure the operation of the routes goes smoothly every day. However, the district has been facing a shortage of bus drivers in the past four years and has struggled to maintain growth in their number of drivers, especially as new homes are being built around the Valley.

Jim Garhart, Snoqualmie Valley School District’s director of transportation, explained that many of the long time bus divers are retiring across the state and the numbers of new applicants are not growing enough to match demands.

“It’s been over four years time, we are seeing probably the Baby Boomer burst. The new generation is coming in and a lot of the ones who have been doing it for 20, 30 years are retiring and so we are starting to hire replacements for that,” Garhart said.

The school district has been reaching out to prospective bus drivers in the area at community events like job fairs and summer festivals, as well as handing out flyers for kids to take home to their parents who may be interested in applying.

Garhart said they have also begun offering paid training for the position which has helped bring more drivers in.

“We saw the people coming in to apply for jobs needed a job and income right away and so we worked together with the district administrators to be able to provide paid training at minimum wage and we started that last year, which has helped,” he said. “It’s roughly about 40 to 50 hours of training that we would compensate them for.”

The district currently has 46 contracted drivers and seven substitutes, Garhart said. In 2016 they had 10 summer recruits, but only six in 2017.

“It has stayed stagnant, but with more advertising and word of mouth hopefully we will get some more,” he said.

Garhart said they have been successful with reaching out to retired community members who find the schedule and hours of a school bus driver appealing.

“It’s the best job to be with the kids. Connecting with students,” he said. “Kids keep us young, challenging, but keep us young. We hear that from our drivers.”

For more information on the E-Link, Bus Bulletin and bus driver jobs, visit svsd410.org.

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