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Cuyama Joint Unified School District impacted by lack of bus drivers

Posted at 3:44 PM, Oct 04, 2022

In the past few months, cities on the Central Coast have been impacted by a lack of school bus drivers; but 50 miles inland, it has been a prolonged issue for the small school district in Cuyama.

Right now, the Cuyama Joint Unified School District says they have been stretched thin, with only two drivers responsible for taking roughly 80 kids to and from school every day.

Cuyama native, Mary Jo Harrington, makes up half of the district's available school bus drivers, but she wears another hat as well.

"I am also the elementary school secretary so I have a lot of contacts regarding the bus stops and I am familiar with the bus stops myself, so I know where they need to be," Harrington said.

District officials say there are typically four drivers available to provide rides to students, but as a result of the shortage, staff members like Harrington have had to step in.

"We go 30 miles toward Ventura on Highway 33. We go another 30 miles west toward Santa Maria, plus all the local spots between," she told KSBY. "We are making it work."

"She is a secretary, she is a bus driver, sometimes she will go and clean our cafeteria," admitted District Superintendent Alfonso Gamino. "In a small district, we do other things."

Gamino says despite the recent shortage, they have been able to get kids to and from school safely and on time.

"Even though we only have two bus routes, we have had the highest attendance rate in the last three years," he added.

He says in the past few months, the district has spread the word throughout the community about its need for more drivers. He says by the start of the spring semester, their supply of drivers will have more than doubled.

"By January, we should go from two bus drivers to five bus drivers," Gamino said.

He adds that the incoming drivers do not have prior experience, so they will spend the coming weeks getting certified, passing a test with the California Highway Patrol, and receiving clearance from the district.

"We are putting our most valuable resource, our kids, in their hands, so we want to make sure we are doing everything correct," Gamino remarked.

"We are encouraging them all the way to continue through their studies and get their license as soon as possible. That would be great," Harrington added.

The district says they expect their newest driver to finish onboarding and begin taking kids to and from school by the end of next month.

One of their new drivers is also jumping into a new position, as they currently serve as the school secretary at Cuyama Valley High School.