Like other school districts across the country, St. Charles School District continues to face a bus driver shortage.
“There’s just not enough people,” St. Charles School Superintendent Jason Pearson said in updating members of the Citizen Advisory Committee on Thursday. “We’ve actually been really fortunate. We’ve only had two school days the whole school year where we’ve had routes that were affected. There are many, many, many districts where it’s every single day that they’re struggling with routes.”
One day last month, the district could not find drivers for several of its routes. The district had seven routes that it was not able to cover with its substitute drivers or district staff.
“Unfortunately, what happens is there are days when we have drivers that are ill,” Pearson said. “We do have some substitute drivers, but because we’re not fully staffed, those drivers are driving regular routes every day. And so we have a few people to sub and we have some retired drivers and a couple of other people that are willing to sub on short term notice, but there comes a point – the two days that I mentioned – where everybody was driving every bus that we had available that we had a driver for. And we were still short some routes.”'
The district is trying to hire more drivers. But until the district gets fully staffed, it is looking at ways to address the situation in the interim.
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to rotate it so that the same route is not affected each time,” he said. “We’re prioritizing younger children. I don’t want an elementary child standing out at a bus stop by themselves if for some reason the parent didn’t get a communication [that their bus is running late].
The National Association for Pupil Transportation, which represents school bus drivers, has said the pandemic is partly to blame because older drivers have to consider the health risk. According to a survey recently conducted by the group along with the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the National School Transportation Association, 50% of those responding to the survey said the rate of pay is a major factor affecting their ability to recruit and retain drivers.
In addition, 45% cited the length of time to secure a CDL license as being a contributing factor. The availability of benefits and the hours available to work were also cited as contributing factors.