Dear HPS Family,
This fall Helena Public Schools has struggled – like schools across Montana and the nation – to staff our bus routes amidst an unprecedented shortage of drivers. Despite extensive recruitment efforts, our district continues to lack drivers for approximately 15 of our 68 routes.
We have managed the shortage so far this fall by temporarily doubling up some routes. As a result, some kids are spending well over an hour on the bus, which is not fair to them and their families. Other districts in Montana have canceled some routes altogether for the remainder of the year – another option that puts undue hardship on some families.
Instead, we’re asking families to help each other out as we develop long-term solutions.
Beginning Monday, November 15, Helena Public Schools will move to a new bus schedule with rolling route suspensions for the remainder of the year. We’re asking parents, with the exception of special ed routes, to transport their students to and from school approximately one week a month (every fourth week in a four-week rotation).
This change allows us to run our regular, pre-COVID bus routes for all families the majority of the time. It also reduces the amount of time some students are spending on the bus.
We recognize that this is a hardship, especially for working parents, and will reduce the number of route suspensions if we’re able to hire enough drivers to cover more routes.
The first route suspension will be the week of November 15-19. In most cases, route numbers and bus stops will return to those used before the COVID-19 pandemic, however some may change.
We’re asking parents to take two steps as soon as possible:
Each route will be suspended for five consecutive days on a four-week, rotating schedule (approximately once a month).
If you want to be reimbursed for your transportation costs, you will need to fill out a Family Transportation Contract and a Form W-9, both of which are available at HPS Transportation. In cases where the one-week route suspension falls on a holiday, parents will still be compensated the full amount for that week.
Once a contract is in place, HPS will determine your transportation reimbursement based on how frequently your child or children ride the bus. If your student rides their bus route eight or more times during the three weeks a month that their route is in service, you will receive $100 a month. If your child rides their route fewer than eight times during that three-week period, you will receive $50 a month.
Compensation is based on the number of routes your family uses, not the number of students you have. For example, if you have two children – an elementary student and a middle school student – who ride different buses to school with each of them riding eight or more times a month, you will be reimbursed $200 a month ($100 for each route used). If you have two elementary students who ride the same bus to school, you will receive $100 a month.
Total reimbursement will be calculated at the end of the 2021- 2022 school year and checks for the total amount will be issued in June 2022. Please note that families who receive compensation of more than $600 in a calendar year will receive a 1099 tax document, as the payment is reportable. Reimbursement is not available for courtesy riders.
On behalf of all our drivers and staff, we appreciate your help getting our community’s children safely to and from school each day during these difficult times. I will be in frequent communication to keep you apprised of any new details or changes.
Transportation Director, Helena Public Schools