Kane school districts continue to face bus driver, substitute teacher shortages

School districts in Kane County continue to face a shortage of bus drivers, substitute teachers and other positions in schools, weeks into the new school year.

Kane County Regional Office of Education Superintendent Pat Dal Santo said the problem isn’t limited to Kane County, but has been a problem for districts across the country. She said that the pandemic has played a large part in the shortages, but there isn’t just one solution that will solve the problem.

“Districts decide on a case-by-case basis what to do if they do not have enough personnel to staff buses and/or classrooms. Administrators are often used to sub in classrooms. Classrooms are also sometimes combined. Bus routes can also be combined,” Dal Santo said in an email.

A Batavia School District 101 spokeswoman said in an email that the district contracts with bus companies, which have been using office staff to drive when needed.

“If faced with a dire shortage, which left us without enough drivers to cover our routes for the day, we would run buses in succession until all students were safely transported to their school. This is not ideal as it would have some students arriving late to school, but it would provide them the opportunity to learn in person,” Holly Deitchman stated in an email.

St. Charles District 303 has been advertising for open positions on the website and in parent e-newsletters. If there are not enough drivers to bring kids to school, other staff members would need to step in.

“Transportation staff members are licensed and may run routes, we may double up, or we may run later routes, if necessary,” district spokeswoman Carol Smith said.

Geneva is continuing to look for bus drivers this year, according to an email from district spokeswoman Laura Sprague.

“Geneva CUSD 304 has experienced some challenges in filling open transportation positions since before the start of the school year, but we are thankfully able to continue to provide transportation services to all students who need it,” she said in an email. “While Geneva 304 has been able to fill many open positions, there are still some available employment opportunities, which can be found on the district website.”

Kaneland also is feeling the pinch when it comes to bus drivers and substitute teachers.

“As with most school districts in Illinois and across the country, Kaneland is operating with fewer bus drivers and substitute teachers than in a typical school year,” Superintendent Todd Leden said in an email. “That said, we greatly appreciate all of our employees and their dedication to the Kaneland school district as they are going above and beyond the call of duty during these challenging times.”

When districts are short of substitute teachers, some districts will reassign employees.

“District and building-level administrators are licensed educators and are able to step into classrooms, if necessary. We are fortunate to not be in that position,” Smith said of District 303.

At a recent meeting, the Batavia school board approved a pay increase for substitute teachers in order to recruit more qualified candidates.

“We recognize that the best resource for filling these positions is referrals from current staff and families of students. So, we have been recruiting through our weekly messages to families from the District and the individual schools,” Deitchman said. “The daily sub rate was increased to $105 from $95 per day, building sub pay was increased to $125 from $95 per day, and long-term sub pay was increased to $140 from $125 per day.”

The Illinois State Board of Education is offering guidance to districts facing shortages. According to ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews, districts have received “billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funding and can use this funding to address transportation needs, as they relate to the pandemic.”

“School districts can use federal funds for bus driver recruitment, use federal funds for one-time sign-on incentives or longevity incentives, use federal funding for before- and after- school programs and use existing drivers to get students to the programs,” she stated in an email. “They can also coordinate with local recreation departments, or consider contractual arrangements paid by federal funding. For instance, contract with local mass transit for transportation for middle and high school students, or contract with specialized medical transport companies for transporting persons with disabilities with medical needs.”

“School districts can also provide stipends to parents to transport their children to school and include those payments on their state transportation reimbursement claim, which is reimbursed with state funding,” she added in the email.

Aimee Barrows

Aimee Barrows

Aimee Barrows is the editor of the Kane County Chronicle.