HAMILTON, Ga. (WRBL) – On July 22, the Harris County School District (HCSD) announced bus transportation changes for the upcoming academic school year.

According to the school district, students and their families “need to be prepared for changes in bus transportation for the new school year due to challenges being experienced across the nation such as labor shortages and high fuel costs.”

“As we prepare to start school on August 5th, we are facing a number of scenarios, including a shortage of certified bus drivers and extreme fuel costs,” Justin Finney, assistant superintendent of business services and technology shared. “In preparation for these circumstances, we are communicating to parents changes in school bus transportation services, such as times, routes, and stops as well as the possibility of delays.”

The two main challenges the Harris County School District faces, resulting in transportation changes, are school bus driver shortages and fuel costs.

Currently, the school district is short 14 bus drivers. The school district reports that numerous drivers were lost due to retirement and Finney added that the Harris County School District is working on recruiting and hiring more bus drivers.

“To date, we’ve received 19 new driver applications; however, it takes 35 to 45 days for drivers to complete the training required by the state and the district,” Finney added, “We may not see new bus drivers on the road until September.”

The second major challenge the school district is facing is high diesel fuel prices, which the bus fleet requires.

After considering the ongoing challenges, parents/guardians of bus riders should expect the following changes:

  • The afternoon bus routes of the four elementary schools and Creekside will be combined, just as they currently operate in the morning. This will require Creekside to be released before elementary schools. This routing change will eliminate the equivalent of 20 routes and two driver positions as well as save an estimated $250,000 in fuel per year.
  • Approximately five middle school/high school routes will be combined. This will eliminate the need for three routes and three drivers.
  • Buses will no longer go into private, gated communities, of which there are two. This change is due to liability issues. Group stops will be arranged for these locations. This also will provide some fuel and time savings of nearly 30 minutes.
  • Some group bus stops will be combined in appropriate areas, such as subdivisions and local municipalities. This will save on fuel and time. 

Due to the circumstances, the school districts warn that services and schedules are subject to change on short notice, and the HCSD Transportation Department will continue to develop plans when routes are missing drivers.

Additionally, the HCSD Transportation Office will notify parents/guardians of any transportation changes as soon as possible. Parents/guardians and students can monitor bus delays on the HCSD website under the “Daily Bus Status” tab.

The school district also created a “Bus Status Hotline” phone number: 706-457-9230 for parents/guardians and students to use for bus transportation updates.

HSCD also warns under current circumstances, school arrivals and returns to bus stops could be delayed by 1 to 2 hours, in which case school transportation personnel “will make every attempt to notify parents.”

According to HCSD, tardiness will be excused if students are late due to bus transportation delays, and educators will work with students on what they may have missed in class.

In addition, bus cards provided by the school district containing information on bus locations and pick-up/drop-off times will be sent to students’ homes via mail no later than July 25 and should be received by Aug. 1.