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Nevada rejects using National Guard troops to drive kids to school

Clark County School (Tomás Del Coro/Flickr)

The Nevada Division of Emergency Management declined the Clark County School District’s request to have the Nevada National Guard prop up the district’s critically depleted bus driver corps.

Not enough Guard members have the necessary commercial driver’s licenses and endorsements, and officials are hesitant to take on the risks and liabilities of transporting children in the Las Vegas area’s “very urban setting,” the state says.

CCSD, by way of the Clark County Office of Emergency Management, sought 50 to 100 drivers from members of Nevada’s Army and Air Force National Guard to help with the shortage, according to a request the district made on Sept. 22.

“While the Guard may have personnel able to drive large vehicles, the risk versus benefit of having them with such precious cargo as our state’s children on busy highways could not be mitigated in a short period of time to make them an effective force,” Dave Fogerson, the state’s emergency management chief, replied to Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Billy Samuels, who oversees the county’s emergency management, in a Sept. 24 letter. “The driving practice, both on the streets and on the cone course for them to be competent probably is not achievable in a time frame to be adequate for your needs.”

Sending in the National Guard to drive children to school has emerged as a stopgap in some states as a shortage of bus drivers grips schools nationwide. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker activated 250 members of his state’s National Guard to transport students, at federal cost, in several districts. School districts outside Cincinnati and Cleveland have called on the Ohio National Guard for help. The Philadelphia School District has floated the idea of bringing in members of the Pennsylvania National Guard.

The Clark County Office of Emergency Management reached out to its state counterpart on CCSD’s behalf asking the Nevada National Guard could do the same. Clark County’s school system, the fifth-largest in the nation, is down about 240 drivers. It needs 1,570 drivers to be fully staffed.

Learning it couldn’t rely on Guard members to drive school buses, CCSD said in a statement: “Currently, there is a national shortage of bus drivers and CCSD continually works to fill bus driver positions year-round in a variety of ways, including on-the-job paid training for qualified candidates, a one-stop shop center to assist with the application process, and creating innovative ways to provide transportation staff with full-time employment when possible.”

Fogerson apologetically denied the request to Clark County, citing several concerns in addition to unease with the risk.

One is funding. The state has federal pandemic relief dollars, but Fogerson said he couldn’t “make a solid tie” to COVID assistance money, and outside of that source, the state doesn’t have a funding stream. He estimated that 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 transportation unit, but not enough people in it with the commercial driver’s license, with necessary air brake and passenger endorsements, that the district asked for. He also said there probably wouldn’t be enough volunteers, noting that the Guard was recently unable to fill 50 slots to help with ongoing Western wildfires.

“I want to let you know that the state does not take lightly the need to continue in-person learning for our schoolchildren nor our responsibility to support our local governments,” Fogerson wrote.

Meanwhile, the school district is moving ahead with a partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission to provide students at 15 high schools with free bus passes.

Students at 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 already qualified for busing will catch the standard city buses that stop closest to their homes and schools. Students at Liberty and Desert Oasis will use an RTC on-demand service.

According to notices sent this week to parents, some CCSD stops for those schools will be eliminated when the program begins on Oct. 11. The passes are free to students and can be used anytime, not just to and from school, and will cost the district about $1.17 million, according to a district purchasing document.

And state emergency managers 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 proper driver qualifications. Seasonal snowplow drivers might be able to fill bus spots, Fogerson suggested.

The state will also see how many CCSD employees are also Guard members on active duty for the pandemic response who can be returned from their military assignments to potentially drive yellow buses.

“We don’t expect this to be many, but it appears any number of additional staff members will assist the school district,” Fogerson wrote.


(c) 2021 the Las Vegas Sun

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