SLVUSD busses
Felton students race to catch SLVUSD’s “Squirrel” bus on Aug. 16. — Drew Penner/Press Banner

Some San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District parents and students are scrambling to find a new route to school after district officials told them last week that the No. 14 “Squirrel” bus would be temporarily suspended, after Aug. 19.

“It’ll be a big problem,” said Felton fourth-grader Paige Smith, who is turning 10 in November, about the removal of her bus route from the SLVUSD map. “They can’t find a driver.”

Parents said they learned the news last Wednesday, the day before classes started.

This follows on the heels of the temporary halt placed on the “Swan” bus that serves Ben Lomond after that driver moved out of the area.

Paige’s grandmother, 72-year-old Deborah Gustavson, says the route from where they live in Forest Lakes to the SLV campus is much too dangerous to ever let Paige walk.

“There’s no room for people to walk on that road,” she said.

Gustavson says parents have been scrambling to come up with solutions.

“I know of two families that have already pulled their kids out of school,” she said. “They figured if they had to drive their kids to school, they might as well drive them to private school.”

Paige says she’s heard about both bus line disruptions.

“I was really mad that the bus driver quit,” she said. “I don’t think my school pays right.”

There’s quite a back-up at the campus already, as parents line up to drop off or collect students, and this is expected to worsen with the elimination of the Squirrel bus.

“My classroom is on one side of the school and where I get dropped off is on the other side,” Paige said. “I’m going to have to run, and that’s not allowed.”

She worries she may even get marked absent sometimes.

“We take attendance and whoever is not here we count absent,” Paige said. “They have to go to the office.”

SLVUSD says the driver of the Squirrel bus put in their resignation the week school was starting and notes it’s just pausing the service—not canceling it.

“Finding bus drivers is a national problem, and across the state, several school districts are having difficulty finding staff, including bus drivers,” Superintendent Chris Schiermeyer said, adding some Santa Cruz County districts don’t offer bus service, at all. “We understand, due to the rural nature of our school boundaries and Highway 9, it is important for us to maintain Home to School Transportation for our families.”

Michael’s Transportation is under contract with the district to provide bus drivers, but the company is having trouble finding people to do the job, according to SLVUSD.

“As soon as we are able to hire a bus driver or contract with a service provider for a bus driver, we will reinstate the bus routes,” Schiermeyer said. “We have had a couple of people reach out to whom we have followed up with, and once they apply, we will interview, hire, and provide all the required training for the bus drivers.”

Katelyn Keller, 33, has two children at SLV Charter and two students at San Lorenzo Valley Elementary.

“Without any bus, if I was just driving it would take me three hours every day,” she said, standing at the Forest Lakes neighborhood playground after the bus picked up the kids for the day. “I’m hoping they find a driver.”

Keller says she learned about the route pause through a meet-and-greet for parents.

“Another parent said, ‘Oh no, the bus!’” she recalled. “I felt distraught.”

Stephanie Welsh, 43, has one child who finishes school at 2:15pm and one who finishes at 3pm.

“The school doesn’t provide any help for the gap there,” she said, adding the childcare option on campus no longer has room for additional students. “The YMCA’s been full since the first day. We’re 31st on the waitlist.”

Welsh said they did get a call from the district about the #14 bus, but says that doesn’t change the reality of the situation.

“I’m a single mom who works full-time,” she said. “I don’t have someone else who can pick them up.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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