Getting on and off a school bus should be one of the easiest parts of the school day. For the  96,000 students in Jefferson County, Kentucky (JCPS), however, a broken transportation system has kept them out of school for four days and counting. On the first day of school, last Wednesday, a disastrous new school bus system picked up some students an hour late and dropped off the last students at 9:58 pm. 

The roots of this transportation crisis started long before this rocky school year. JCPS was facing a bus driver shortage last year, when 250 bus driver jobs were unfilled. Last school year, buses frequently picked up and dropped off students late. The head of the local International Brotherhood of Teamsters affiliate representing the bus drivers said that poor student behavior caused former drivers to run for the hills.

Who could blame them? After all, a driver can earn more with FedEx or UPS and gets a larger paycheck without any unruly passengers. (In a gracious moment of cooperation, UPS has offered to meet with JCPS officials to help them sort out their logistics.) Prolonged school closures during COVID, perpetuated by teacher unions, caused a spike in school violence. “Restorative justice” policies, also favored by the teacher unions and used at JCPS, replace meaningful consequences with a slap on the wrist. It’s no mystery why bus drivers wouldn’t want to work there. 

Rather than fix these problems at the source, by recruiting more bus drivers with better pay or getting serious about student discipline, JCPS wrote a check: The district paid AlphaRoute, a transportation planning company, more than a quarter million dollars to create new bus routes and schedules for the district. The current transportation disaster was a predictable one; AlphaRoute had failed to deliver a workable transit plan for Columbus City Schools in Ohio, too. 

As children are stuck at home with nowhere to learn, parents are panicking to find suitable child care. Families plan their lives around school schedules, and for a school system to be unable to stick to the schedule it created for itself is just plain embarrassing. Teachers, too, must now recalibrate their plans based on an uncertain future schedule. 

JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio apologized both to parents and to the bus drivers, many of whom said the plan would not work. Pollio is highly paid by taxpayers—more than $350,000 per year, a $75,000 raise from last year—and ought to put his money where his mouth is. The least Pollio could do is forgo his salary for as long as JCPS students are forced to forgo their education. Elementary and middle school students will go back to school on Friday, after losing six days to bureaucratic incompetence. High schoolers will return on Monday, having lost seven. 

The story of the JCPS bus fiasco is the same story of how education itself has lost its way: Highly-paid bureaucrats and their hand-picked consultants neglected to listen to the people closest to the work, and the end result is a crisis that robs students of an education.