Stillwater School District informs parents of canceled bus routes days before school starts

On Friday, some parents in the Stillwater School District received an email saying because of bus driver shortages, the district will not be able to offer transportation for nearly a quarter of their scheduled routes, impacting 3,950 students for the foreseeable future.

The email to parents says, "We were notified late this week that our transportation vendor has been unable to find drivers for many of our bus routes. This means that many Stillwater Area Public School students, as well as a number of charter and non-public school students, will be without transportation starting on Tuesday, Sept. 7."

In addition to this email to families, the district filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Transportation Network claiming they are not fulfilling the transportation agreement put into effect on June 25, 2020.

According to court documents, "On September 1, 2021 at 5:26 p.m. Metropolitan [Transportation Network] emailed a letter to the District stating that it will stop providing services for 21.5 routes effective September 7, 2021."

The document goes on to say that those routes amount to 23% of the District and "would affect 3,950 students."

"I feel bad I know there’s staffing shortages but it’s just it’s unacceptable," said Casey Martin, parent of a second grader in the Stillwater School District.

She and other parents in her neighborhood are trying to work together to find a way to get kids to and from school. She says her family can make mornings work, but with both parents working full-time, the 3:30 pick up time will be a challenge.

She’s also concerned about the logistics of so many parents being forced to pick up and drop off students every day. She says she thinks the process could be chaotic and time-consuming.

"I got an email from our principal saying we get 10 minutes in the morning to drop off kids by letter of the alphabet," Martin said.

The lawsuit filed by the district follows documented complaints dating back to April of this year raised by the district to the bus company.

An affidavit filed by the district’s Super Intendent includes correspondence between the district and bus company.

Within those documents is a letter from Metropolitan Transportation Network told the district saying "in the bold effort to shore up the national driver shortage – felt by not only every Minnesota transportation company but by every transportation service provider in the country- MTN has engaged a well-known transportation/driver recruiter who is a former transportation manager for the Stillwater School District. And MTN has supplemented that recruiting effort by raising to and offering $25 per hour for driver services."

On Monday evening the Stillwater School District sent an email to parents notifying the that seven of the 21.5 previously canceled routes had been restored and schools would open early allowing parents more time to drop students off.

The district is also hosting an emergency meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday to "discuss strategies to address the transportation challenges."