A loss of three drivers at the beginning of the school year has left district officials with no choice, according to Grove Superintendent Sandy Coaly.

Beginning Monday, Aug. 28, the district will no longer offer transportation to the daycares within the one and half mile radius of the school campuses.

"We've hauled to daycares every year for the last seven years I've been superintendent," Coaly said. "In the last three years, it's been nip and tuck to haul to the daycares."

Coaly said an increase in the district's population by 40 students, as well as a shortage of four drivers, led to the decision.

On Tuesday, she and Transportation Director Lynn Sears visited the owners of the various daycares in Grove to let them know the district could no longer provide evening dropoffs for their students.

Coaly said the decision came, in part, because of the need to focus on transporting students who live outside of the one and half mile pick up zone in the district.

"We need bus drivers badly," Coaly said. "Three quit the week school started."

Coaly said district officials attempted to operate without change on the first two days of school - knowing that many parents drop off and pick up on the first day of classes.

By Monday, Aug. 21, she said, the situation became obvious. The district did not have enough bus drivers to operate out of town routes, if the two buses continued to be used for the daycare dropoffs.

"It's not a matter of money, and it's not that we don't have enough buses," Coaly said. "We just don't have enough drivers."

This week, in order to keep delivering to the daycares administrators at the Early Childhood Center and Lower Elementary - where a majority of the daycare children attend - have been dismissing those students 15 minutes early. 

This allows the two bus drivers to take students to the daycares before returning for the regular routes.

Coaly said she's searching for a solution. She's asked city officials about the possibility of using the Pelivans in the afternoon.

She's also exploring if the district can open up an after school care program, which parents could enroll students for a small fee. 

"That might be a win, win academically," Coaly said, because it would allow teachers to help students with their homework.

She has also talked with one daycare about the potential of opening a satellite program in one of the district's classrooms.

She also offered the daycares the option of using one of the classrooms, after school, where students could remain under supervision, until all could be transported back to the various facilities. 

Spears has even volunteered, Coaly said, to work on her own time to help one daycare make sure their vehicle is ready to transport children. 

"I've tried to think outside of the box," Coaly said. "We just need drivers badly. That would solve the whole solution."

Coaly estimates it takes approximately one and a half months for a new driver to become fully licensed by the state - which includes a background check, ability to pass random drug tests and obtaining a CDL permit. 

Coaly has talked with school officials in Coweta, Skiatook, Jay, Pryor and Collinsville. All are experiencing the same driver shortage. None of those schools offer transportation to daycares within their communities.

Skiatook officials offer an afterschool program, but it is primarily for the children of district employees. 

"I've taken pride that we've hauled to our daycares every year," Coaly said. "We want to be good community partners. I like being the exception. I believe in doing things that go above and beyond. I love helping our parents and our community. 

"But we literally do not have the drivers. We have to [prioritize] the rural kids, because they can't walk to school."

Daycare response

Chelsea Perryman, the director of Wee Little Lambs, said she knows the transportation decision is not the school's fault and is because of a limited number of drivers.

"We're trying to be positive and supportive of the school," Perryman said. "We've been telling people about the shortage, encouraging those with a CDL to contact the district."

Perryman said because her daycare is close to the school campus, and because there is a sidewalk all the way to the ECC, she plans to have staff walk with the students from the schools back to the daycare. They will use a van in the event of inclement weather.

"Monday is going to be our trial," Perryman said. "If we do it, and see the kids are having trouble, we may go strictly to our van. We'll just need to make multiple trips.

"We are very fortunate because we do have a bus for our daycare."

Ashley Denney, who operates Kids R First, said she's scrambling to come up with a solution for her parents.

"Our parents are not going to pick up their children, to bring them to us," she said. "If they were able to do that, they wouldn't be bringing them to daycare."

Denny said at least 17 of her students are impacted by the decision. At least two have been pulled from the program by their parents. She fears more will follow - including those with younger siblings.

"We're going to lose some kids if we can't figure this out," Denny said. "We're trying to find something by Monday. It's just an inconvenience.

"I've promised my parents we'll get the kids back from school."

Like Perryman, Denny understands the situation regarding the drivers. She hopes the district can resolve the issue and return to transporting students on a regular basis.

Parents' reaction

For Brandy Myers, the news her children - a pre-kindergartener and first grader - would not be transported to their daycare, Kids R First, frustrated.

Myers, who works for Grand Lake Mental Health, has an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. As an hourly employee, if she is required to take her children to daycare in the afternoon, it would mean at least an hour out of her day. 

"I could push my lunch to 3 p.m., and spend my entire lunch break doing transportation," Myers said. "But for a lot of my families I service, lunch is the only time we can meet.

She said several of her coworkers are in the same position, but because they work with families in Spavinaw, Jay, Disney or rural Wyandotte afternoon transportation to the daycares is critical. 

Myers is keeping her fingers crossed Denny will be able to find transportation for her facility.

"If it doesn't work, I'll have to pick them up, drive them to daycare, turn around work an hour and then leave to pick them up by 5:30 p.m.," Myers said. "I'm fortunate I work at the office. Most of my coworkers work in schools throughout the area. 

"I have one coworker, who is a counselor at Turkey Ford and all five of the [area] Head Starts," Myers said, adding if her coworker has to transport her children, it will limit her ability to have afternoon appointments at the outlying districts.

For Misti Williamson, it was difficult to have less than seven days to find alternative childcare.

"[It's especially difficult for single parents who work out of town and have no family anywhere close," Williamson said. "Not to mention it puts a hardship on parents and employers to leave work. Less hours [equals] less money and not enough for food or daycare.

"It's a ridiculous decision. We can't expect the daycare teachers to be able to leave to go pick up the children because there's not many people in this town willing to work in a daycare and sure enough if the teacher leaves or the director leaves DHS is going to show up and write them up for not having the correct ratios."

Williamson uses Wanda's Wee Preschool/Daycare. At this point she does not have an alternative solution for her children's afterschool care.

Williamson said she may be left with no choice, but to pull her son out of pre-kindergarten and let him attend daycare full-time.

"We live here without any family," Williamson said, "I work for a practice in Jay so I couldn't be able to leave Jay, pick him up and take him anywhere other than to daycare, only to turn around and drive back to Jay and work for possibly another 30 minutes.

"So it would take me an hour and 15 minutes just to do this round trip."

For Kris De Sha, finding out on Tuesday afternoon, the district would cease bussing his child to her daycare was frustrating.

"This gave us three business days to find a place for our child to go," De Sha said. "Having no family around, and three days doesn't give any time for proper vetting, possibly putting the children in a dangerous situation.

"We had to take time off of work to make arrangements to have a place for our child to go. This would not have been a problem if it was announced that starting January 2018, or even a few weeks notice.

De Sha said he believes the situation was poorly handled.

"Not only does this put stress on the parents and children, but also cuts into income for our local daycare, that provide food and shelter for the children," he said.