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Milwaukee school board proposes paying parents to drive kids amid bus driver shortage

School busses
Posted at 8:41 AM, Oct 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-06 08:41:39-04

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) tried to call in the National Guard to help the district's current school bus driver shortage. Now, it's considering paying parents to drive their kids to school.

The MPS budget committee voted to pass an amendment to pay parents during Tuesday night's meeting, though it has not decided on specific details.

The amendment allocates $500,000 of federal relief funds for MPS to provide a transportation stipend to families. The amendment was co-sponsored by 3rd District Board Director Sequanna Taylor and 8th District Director Megan O'Halloran.

O'Halloran says the intent is for flexible spending. According to the amendment, that could mean gas mileage for personal vehicles or bus passes. Taylor says the money is to acknowledge families' struggles.

"So, we hear you and our families, and we want you to stay with the MPS," Taylor said. "And if this is a token to say, if some parents can't get their children to school, to give them some kind of stipend to say thank you for wavering through with us."

Many MPS parents have already been driving their kids to school because they have given up on the bus.

"We tried for like the first two, three weeks, and it was just rough to see your son sitting outside for 40 minutes, and you call the bus company, and they are on the way (when they were) supposed to be in school 15 minutes ago. So, it is kind of crazy," said Johntel Henderson, who drives his son to and from school.

Johntel Henderson
Johntel Henderson says he gave up on the school bus, now he and his wife drive their son to school everyday.

Others have found alternative ways to get their kids to class.

"Sometimes it is difficult to find her a ride," said Angie Rivera, whose daughter now takes a Milwaukee County Transit System bus to school. "I have been planning for the city bus because it is a lot easier than the school bus."

MPS MOM
Angie Rivera has her daughter take the Milwaukee County Transit System bus to school when she cannot find a ride.

But Riverwest mom Kyla Lahaie needs the bus for her son to get to school.

"I can't drive. I'm actually legally blind. The only real option for me is for him to take an Uber," Lahaie said.

She says the bus is usually consistent — just consistently late.

"It hasn't been horrible up to this point. He is late for school most mornings because his bus picks him up late," Lahaie said.

Riverwest mom Kyla Lahaie
Riverwest mom Kyla Lahaie needs the bus for her son to get to school because she is legally blind and cannot drive.

But on Monday, the bus didn't come at all. It leaves people like Lahaie in a bind.

Bob Peterson, the president of the Milwaukee School Board of Directors, says he knows it's bad. It is so bad he tried to get the National Guard called in.

"We asked, that is, the government to send the National Guard in, and we had the support of the mayor and other people in Milwaukee," Peterson said. "But the legal document that gave him advice from the Wisconsin Legislative Council stated that it was very likely that he lacks the authority to declare a new state of emergency, based on the previous court decision."

Currently, MPS says it has a shortage of 50 drivers. The district says anywhere from 400 to 2,000 students are affected each day. Now, the board is proposing paying parents.

"One of the options is to pay parents to transport their children to school," Peterson said. "It's complicated in terms of the number of issues, but we're working on that and hope to have that in place very soon."

Across the country, similar programs are already in place at Baltimore City Public Schools in Maryland, EastSide Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware and schools in Camden, New Jersey.

Many students rely on a bus to get to school. According to the Bureau of Transportation, 50% of students in the country take the bus, and 70% of students from low-income families take the bus school.

For Lahaie, she just wants her son to get to school on time.

"It's really stressful for him. He's a really good student who really cares about going to school and learning, and being late to school every day is stressful," Lahaie said. "Walking into class in the middle of class is interruptive, and he doesn't like that feeling."

This story was originally published by Rebecca Klopf and Bruce Harrison on Scripps station TMJ4 in Milwaukee.