Another year, another set of challenges for DLPS Transportation

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – Once August rolls around, Brad Larson’s first order of business is clear: make sure he has enough bus drivers for the upcoming school year. 

A tentative driver roster totaling 17 helps run 12 routes and aids in manning roughly 18 route buses, four activity buses and 10 additional fleet vehicles. As of Aug. 23, 735 children (K-12) are registered to ride a DLPS bus during the current school year.

As a transportation and maintenance supervisor for Devils Lake Public Schools (DLPS), such a job obligation makes sense. With school right around the corner, it is only natural for Larson to begin working out the logistical sides of the transportation coin. 

But such a venture isn’t necessarily an easy one. And Leslie Elfman understands as such. After all, Elfman has to make do with doing two jobs simultaneously. A tall labor task for any district worker, let alone Elfman, who is in charge of taking calls and organizing schedules, among other transportation-related duties. 

“My job, and in my job at the current time, I have two positions in one,” Elfman, 49, said. “I do purchasing for the district, so all of the purchasing. I do that, plus I do transportation. They are hoping to find another person to take half the duties, so yeah. It’s crazy. Transportation is a daily thing. Any day that we run buses, I’m busy.”

Every year brings different challenges, and the 2022-23 DLPS academic year isn’t any different. Eight full-time drivers, not to mention five drivers “retired” from other duties, help paint the picture. With four additional drivers working outside the school system, a driver roster totaling 17 helps run 12 routes and aids in manning roughly 18 route buses, four activity buses and 10 additional fleet vehicles. As of Aug. 23, 735 children (K-12) are registered to ride a DLPS bus during the current school year. 

But transportation isn’t that simple. Of course, working with parents continues to make up a significant portion of the transportation gig. And that’s on top of the 1,600 miles all combined routes chart daily. 

But even the logistical workload of going from point A to point Z doesn’t tell the entire story. To Larson, one of the biggest issues revolves around finding enough drivers to man the fleet. 

“A lot of our bus drivers are older, so a lot of them are retiring,” Larson, 49, said. “We do need to add drivers to our list. Advertising and stuff like that just seems not to be pulling them in. I think it’s all over the nation. It’s just everywhere right now. So, we are trying to make do [with] what we can.”

Whether by reaching out by word or by newspaper ads, Larson and Elfman have a similar obligation to fill the gaps and find enough assurance to make sure the entire operation runs as smoothly as possible, literally and figuratively. In typical North Dakota fashion, weather can play a hand in the former. 

“I do a lot of weather daycare,” Larson said. “I’ll usually go out, check routes, watch the weather to see what we have and make sure the safety of our children is No. 1 and drivers. Of course, I go out and do weather checks, road checks, and I’ll communicate with the superintendent, and then we’ll decide the calls from there.”

Brad Larson (left) and Leslie Elfman (right) work in transportation with DLPS, among other district responsibilities.

Working through diversity, like any other labor job, is a prerequisite to a transportation gig. Elfman, who officially began her position in 2017, has to work through it every day through every phone call. 

The subtraction of two bus routes from the previous year only adds to the diversity.

“Transportation requests start coming in, so the phones become wild the first of August, always,” Elfman said. “And that’s when we start…we need to know the routes, usually, by then. Where they are going, so we can tell parents your child will be on this bus and estimated arrival time in the morning, because we don’t know exactly a time a bus will arrive until we’ve gone through this a few days.”

Keeping up with the weather, checking routes and keeping each vehicle in tip-top shape defines the school transportation job. Filling out the official and unofficial driver rosters, among other responsibilities, only adds to the labor.

“It isn’t just transportation for either of us,” Elfman said. “We have two jobs in one.”

“Patience,” Larson said. “Patience. I have to go with the flow because there is no precise exact time. So, you have to adjust. Adjust as you go…We try to get our families and parents to hopefully be able to work with us on this, and most do pretty well.”

John Crane is a sports/general assignment reporter for the Devils Lake Journal. Feel free to contact John via work phone (701-922-1372), cell phone (701-230-4339), email (jcrane@gannett.com), Instagram (johnbcranesports) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.