SWEETWATER, Tenn. (WATE) — Residents in Monroe County are calling their current school bus situation a “crisis” as the county’s number of bus contractors and buses remains cut in half.

“What we’ve seen now is a crisis,” said bus contractor James Miles. “They took money we was already receiving. We was receiving $400 per month of supplement per each bus that was on a route. They took that money, moved it over to seat pay, raised the seat pay, but they took the $400 basically away from us.”

With that money gone and local contractors refusing to return, bus drivers are now a scarcity.

“I had read a letter to them if you approve this contract, we will probably not sign this contract,” said Miller. “Fifteen minutes later they voted for the contract. Contractors, we all got up, and walked out and we decided at that time that we was not going to sign the contract as it stood.”

Currently, the system is 30 buses short, Sweetwater has no bus routes at all, and no resolution seems to be in sight.

“It’s just a big mess,” said parent James Alford.

Alford is new to the Sweetwater area. He was hoping to send his previously homeschooled 12-year-old son back to the classroom. Now he does not know if that is a possibility.

“I might not be able to get my son to school if I enroll him because I have to work and I might not be able to pick him up some days because I have to work.”

Aside from schedule issues, many parents worry about what pick-up and drop-off times will look like. One local mother spoke to WATE on the condition of anonymity.

“It’s going to be a two-hour drop-off line because every parent in the city is in that line,” the mother said. “Traffic is going to be at a standstill. It’s just going to be when can I get to work?”

In response to the need for drivers, Sweetwater City Schools Board of Education member Rodney Boruff released the following message:

“We subcontract our bus services through Monroe County. They handle contracts for all routes across the county. I know that are working diligently to get all routes covered. Due to the nationwide bus driver shortage and new local contract changes, several routes across the county are not under contract. The Sweetwater community has no contractor for our 13 routes at this time. I can say as recently as yesterday afternoon, meetings were taking place to discuss potential coverage.

As I have said before, I am prayerful that this will get resolved soon because I am well aware of the stress and anxiety that parents, school officials, and bus contractors are going through right now. As a student who rode a bus, I know the importance of having buses and I hope that we can come to a positive conclusion for all involved.”

Despite that message, many parents remain extremely concerned about the situation’s impact on not only their selves, but also their children.

Danielle Gallison Whaley:

“I understand buses are a privilege not a right. School is mandatory by law. Buses have been running with no known issues as long as I can remember. Before starting a family it is known children must go to school and the school provides transportation.

So we’re not going into this unprepared. This situation should have been resolved before now. Being told a week before school starts that buses are not guaranteed is irresponsible of all parties involved. We just received a phone call from Mr. Borruff of the situation. All my other info/updates have been through Facebook. Which you’re never sure is accurate or not. Our children are still going to be marked absent/tardee while buses are not running. Our students and parents are going to get the brunt of this while the ones in charge get to take their time making a decision.

We hope they can make a decision before school starts and that bringing this to a bigger public spotlight will help get them to make a quicker decision.”

Ashley Sands Alston:

“Bus contractors are small businesses and operate for a profit. Their costs to operate have risen just like everyone else’s and to offer them anything less than what they already had is unthinkable.

If we can’t provide transportation to school for children then we should not pay one dime for transportation for school board members, director, or administration….especially when we are still paying the salaries of TWO directors because our board insisted on buying our last one out of her contract without giving any reason. The board said they needed more control over the situation with the bus routes….now they have it and we have parents and families scrambling trying to figure out what to do.

They also have stated that they have a plan if they don’t come to an agreement with the contractors but they’ve yet to announce what that plan is. NOW is a great time for them to do that!”

Current bus routes, according to bus contractor James Miller:

  • Tellico: 22, 23
  • Madisonville: 4, 7, 7A, 8, 8A, 9A, 10A, 11, 12, 13
  • Vonore: 36, 42, 43, 43A
  • Sweetwater: None

As of this report, no agreement has been reached.