Changes to bus and food service for Jeffco Schools

Nationwide staffing problem affecting students, families, close to home

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/1/21

On Sept. 30, Jefferson County Schools released a community update saying Transportation staff was down over 28% — more than 80 drivers— placing them at a critical level. The District said since …

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Changes to bus and food service for Jeffco Schools

Nationwide staffing problem affecting students, families, close to home

Posted

On Sept. 30, Jefferson County Schools released a community update saying Transportation staff was down over 28% — more than 80 drivers— placing them at a critical level.

The District said since the beginning of the school year some bus routes have been cancelled with 12 hours or less notice, creating problems for families who haven’t had time to rearrange their schedules. 

Rather than continue this practice, they will temporarily suspend all bus routes for certain option schools and selected bus routes in north and west areas beginning Oct. 4. 

The district said schools and familes have been that will be affected have already been notified about the cancellations.

Bus service to Fletcher Miller School, Sobesky Academy and Connections Learning Center will not be disrupted because they serve students with disabilities that require transportation.

Transportation service for students with disabilities who have an IEP with transportation will also not have an interruption to bus service.

Warren Tech campuses will continue to receive midday (9 a.m. - 1 p.m.) transportation shuttle service. Outdoor Lab Schools will not face disruption of service due to the hours of operation.

Bus service for field trips will be not be interrupted.

The district says the plan is to re-establish suspended routes as new drivers are hired and trained. Neighborhood schools will receive priority as routes are reinstated.

The District’s Executive Director of Media Relations and Public Information Cameron Bell said as of Sept. 28, Jeffco Schools were also short 96 food service workers, 73 ParaEducators/tutors (special education), 46 paraprofessionals and 76 custodial workers.

Food and Nutrition Services 

According to the Sept. 30 update, Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) will work directly with schools impacted by necessary changes to food service and will communicate changes to families. There are currently three potential scenarios:

Scenario 1: Kitchen site has no FNS staff available to operate the kitchen.

In this case, a modified menu of pre-made meal kits that contain all necessary meal components (except milk) will be provided with staff distributing meals. No a la cart food will be sold.

Scenario 2: Kitchen site operating with one hourly employee without kitchen manager.

In this case, the school will provide support and staff to single FNS employees with meal counting and distribution. One or a combination of the menu options composed of individually wrapped components (with no preparation needed) to make a full meal may be implemented to simplify meal service. No a la cart food will be sold.

Scenario 3: Kitchen site operating with a limited number of employees, but volume has increased to a point staff can’t sustain traditional menu and service.

In this case, the school will provide support and staff to FNS employees in meal distribution on site. One or a combination of the menu options composed of individually wrapped components (with no preparation needed) to make a full meal may be implemented to simplify meal service. No a la cart food will be sold.

Substitutes and more

As for substitute teachers, Bell said she didn’t have specific data at this time, but anecdotally, she thinks the district is seeing a shortage in this area as well.

When a substitute job is not filled on a given day, each school handles it in a way that best fits their needs and community. Bell said often that might be those students in the class without a sub split up and spend the day in the other classes, or licensed staff in the building who don’t normally have an assigned class (like the instructional coach or the special education teacher) have to take the class for the day, thus changing their own scheduled services.

Bell said the District has several measures underway to improve the staffing situation.

“The transportation terminal teams worked all summer spending time at community events sharing information and details about working as a driver for Jeffco; have held open houses and job fairs at the terminals; have posted information all over the county — on social media, in our community newsletters — and have engaged in dozens of interviews for the local media (trying to spread the word),” she said. “And they have made connections to community groups who do work to employ people in Jefferson County. They also are working with an agency that works specifically to employ CDL-qualified drivers.”

She said Food & Nutrition Services has done much of the same. Both groups have also provided recruitment information and materials for schools to share directly with their own parent and community population, and have included items about this in all of their community newsletters that go out to over 125,000 people.

The District has also had multiple job fairs specifically to fill support positions all over Jeffco. Bell said attendance has been low, but they’ve gained a few new staff members as a result. She said schools have also shared other openings within their schools directly with their parent/guardian community in newsletters and on social media.

Picking up the slack

While staffing levels are short, Bell said current staff is pitching in to make things work in many different capacities.

Schools who are short staff members like paraprofessionals have already modified their structure, planning for time in the school day without those teacher support providers.

So far, Bell said, Jeffco isn’t seeing a significant increase in staff leaving because of the extra workload. But she said burnout is something they’re looking out for. 

“We know our employees are flexible, resilient, and dedicated to serving Jeffco students,” Bell said. “We also know that they demonstrate extraordinary amounts of care for one another each and every day, and will keep working together to move forward and keep the education going.”

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