Oswego SD308 facing challenge of attracting, retaining bus drivers, monitors as school year begins

School bus

OSWEGO -- With the new school year underway, Oswego School District 308 is once again facing challenges as it seeks to attract and retain bus drivers and monitors to transport students safely to school buildings.

“The current workforce is struggling with long days and pressure of being short staffed,” according to a statement from the school district, adding that as drivers become eligible, more are inclined to retire.

When asked about the bus situation for the coming year, district officials directed that a list of questions be submitted via email.

As of Aug. 9, the district was still about 10 drivers short for the 94 bus routes it has in place.

“We will continue to do our best to keep the community apprised of the situation and establish expectations,” according to the statement.

The transportation staff is working to consolidate, centralize and minimize the number of stops to make the routes more efficient, the statement said.

Now that classes have started, the district will perform ridership counts to help determine where routes can be adjusted or combined to minimize the number of buses needed.

The district also will continue aggressive recruitment efforts for hiring drivers and monitors, officials said.

There may be adjustments to bus arrival times so that some buses might be able to make two runs to the same school.

For example, a bus might drop off the first load of students 10 to 15 minutes early, and return with a second load 15 to 20 minutes later than the normal drop off time.

Asked directly how many drivers are on the staff, the response was 86 drivers and 39 monitors.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the district had 100 to 115 drivers and about 55 to 60 monitors.

The district has a transportation fleet of 137 vehicles.

Private coverage includes First Student with 15 total routes. In the past the firm was able to cover 40 to 50 routes. Septran is covering 20 routes, down from 30 to 40 routes previously, according to the district email.

Private transportation services are facing the same staffing shortages and challenges, district officials said.

The district is now in contract negotiations with the Oswego Transportation Association.

Currently, starting bus drivers with no experience are paid $18.54 per hour. The district trains these drivers and helps them get their commercial driver’s license and school bus permit.

For those drivers with less than two years experience, a current CDL and school bus permit, the pay is $19.07 per hour.

Those who have a CDL, school bus permit and more than two years experience start at $19.57 per hour.

“Some private transportation companies in the area have increased their starting wages and hourly guarantees, according to the district statement. “Those may offer more at face value, but don’t include the level of benefits or job protection the district drivers and monitors receive.”

The statement continued: “Also, we are short staffed in transportation office staff, which makes it difficult to stay on top of the administrative duties to recruit, hire and train new employees, while maintaining the day-to-day operations.”