Since the first bright yellow school bus started picking up students, it seems like there are always days when they run late. That's too often for one Low Country school district. For some of the students at the brand new Okatie Elementary, it's a long trip already, but when the buses are late, it can last up to two hours.
"The first fear you have is, 'Has the bus been in an accident and do I need to worry about that? Do I need to go to school and make sure my kids are safe?'" the school's principal, Jaime Pinkney, told us.
The problem is twofold: Laidlaw Educational Services, who's contracted to run the buses, is low on drivers. But that's not all. "Presently we're experiencing a number of mechanical breakdowns," explained the company's Darryl Owens. "Just yesterday, we experienced nine buses down due to chemical reasons in the Hilton Head/Bluffton area."
To calm frazzled nerves, Okatie's, come up with a plan. If buses are running late, the school's installed a phone tree among parents, so everyone knows what's going on. Bus drivers say the idea is unique within the school district and they hope it will help them out as much as it does the parents.
"If that phone bank system is in place, then that parent will have the option of picking up that child or making some type of alternative arrangement for the child," said Owens.
So far, the system's been working, and parents appear to be accepting the late buses, even if they are inconvenient. Laidlaw is trying to get its ranks filled with drivers and is actively recruiting new people. If you're interested, here are the numbers to call:
In Hilton Head, call 843.689.7558.
In Beaufort, call 843.322.0763.