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The Bozeman School Board finalized bus route changes in its contract with First Student due to ongoing challenges hiring drivers during its Monday meeting.

With First Student struggling to staff the 50 bus routes the district started the school year with, they have canceled nine of the routes and absorbed those students into other bus routes.

“The actual changes were made a while back,” said Mike Waterman, executive director of business and operations, in an interview Tuesday. “The agenda item was to formalize it.”

Waterman said those nine routes have been reconfigured since the start of the school, with First Student making changes as needed.

“The nine routes were canceled at the end of the day because of the driver shortage,” Waterman said, adding other buses absorbed those students onto their routes.

The contract between the district and First Student is on a per-route basis. With the cancellation of nine routes, the district expects to save about $455,155.

“That money we budgeted to pay First Student but won’t have to, that will be a cost savings to the district,” Waterman said.

The district is also reimbursed on a per-mile basis split evenly between a countywide levy and the state of Montana. With the canceled routes resulting in a reduction of 303 miles per trip, the district won’t receive around $168,401 in expected reimbursements.

“Costs are going to go down and reimbursements will go down as well,” Waterman said.

In early July, Bozeman schools and First Student reached an agreement to a pay raise in its contract to hopefully recruit and retain bus drivers. Faced with challenges to hire in Bozeman, First Student has sometimes brought in drivers from other locations to fill vacancies.

It’s an issue facing school districts across Montana, with transportation managers offering higher wages and paid training in efforts to attract new hires.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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