Local schools feel pinch as bus drivers become scarce

Schools are combining bus routes and pulling licensed staff members from other duties to cover bus shifts

PRINCETON — In a year already filled with pandemic-related challenges, school districts, both nationally and locally, are facing a new and frustrating challenge — a severe shortage in available bus drivers.

School districts, including those in Bureau County, are finding that a return to in-person learning has created an unexpected challenge — transporting students to the buildings.

According to a new nationwide survey, NPR reports that half of student-transportation coordinators described their school bus driver shortages as either “severe” or “desperate.”

Local superintendents are not surprised.

“PES is not immune from challenges associated with bus driver shortages,” Superintendent J.D. Orwig said.

“We have already, often, had to combine different routes and pull peripheral staff members from other duties around the district, that have their bus drivers license, just to be able to transport students to and from school. We would encourage anyone potentially interested in driving a bus to contact our transportation office as soon as possible.”

Spring Valley school administration is similarly concerned.

“We have experienced several issues with busing so far this school year. There is a shortage of bus drivers. This isn’t just a JFK issue or area issue. From what I have been told this is a nationwide issue,” Jim Hermes, superintendent of Spring Valley C.C. School district, said.

“At JFK we are currently down two drivers. We have one driver doing multiple routes to cover for the one missing driver,” Hermes added. “With the other route short a driver, we are temporarily suspending the route. Our JFK parents have been tremendously helpful in supporting us through these difficult times with some transporting their children to help out.”

Hermes said as a result of driver shortages, parents will also have to take their children to extra-curricular events.

“The bus company is unable to meet our transportation needs for our away games and events,” he said.

DePue Superintendent Brad Kenser also said transportation has become a current and constant concern.

“We are experiencing issues with transportation daily,” he said. “Most morning routes are fairly stable with an occasional route delayed due to one bus running the routes instead of two buses we are contracted for.

“The afternoon routes are consistently 45 minutes late. Some days with two buses and other days with only one bus. Currently, students are walking home or riding with a parent or friend instead of waiting on the buses.

“Some students don’t have that option and have to continue to wait 45 minutes to an hour until the buses arrive,” Kenser added. “This will be a bigger issue for the district when inclement weather begins this fall and winter.”

One local district isn’t yet in distress, but is wary of the possibility.

“At Bureau Valley, we currently have our routes and trips covered,” Superintendent Jason Stabler, reported.

“However, we are always looking to increase our available drivers and substitutes to cover the routes and trip requests throughout the year,” he added.

“To find new drivers, we actively recruit community and staff members to become certified drivers. We also advertise on social media and in local newspapers to reach a broader audience. If anyone is interested in becoming a substitute bus driver, they could reach out to our transportation director, Glenda Klingenberg, to inquire how to do so,” Stabler said.