Bus driver shortages affecting local school districts

Bus driver shortages affecting school districts

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - They are the first person to greet your student in the morning and the last one they see before going home. They're school bus drivers. There's not enough of them to go around.

School bus drivers can make a big impact on your student's day. 

"So if a kid's had, you know, a rough time at home, they get on and they have a bus driver who welcomes them and is happy to see them," Scott Woolstenhulme, Assistant Superintendent for District 93, said. "It just starts setting their day off the whole way."

Bus drivers are an essential part of the school day. Darlene Bender has been driving for Bonneville School District 93 for 13 years. Her favorite part of the job is the kids on her bus. 

"The kindergarten kids," Bender said. "They come up with such things they say to you or stories. And I love them. They're just really fun."

Area school districts are facing extreme shortages of school bus drivers. It's so bad that even the Director of Transportation for District 93, Micheal Graham, sometimes has to drive.

"Everybody from my management team, the office staff, even my mechanics, have been driving this year," Graham said. 

So, what is causing such a shortage? One reason is the low unemployment rate.

"Whenever we see low unemployment rates and a full employment market, we struggle to find bus drivers," Margaret Wimborne, Director of Communications for Idaho Falls School District 91, said. "There's just lots of competition for the workers that are available in the community."

One other potential factor is wages. On average, bus drivers make around $15 an hour. D93 increased wages for bus drivers, but are still facing a shortage. They've also started a program called "We Hear The Thunder" to address issues.

"We're trying to be very proactive in our recruiting, equipment, and also we're looking at the ways of working," Graham said. "Seeing if we can be more flexible in some areas."

For District 93, the situation is about to get worse with the new Thunder Ridge High School opening this Fall. 

"The biggest challenge we're looking at is the fact that the new high school will be opening up in the Fall of 2018," Graham said. "And between now and then I need 20 additional drivers."

"One of the challenges with the growth, we see with students, is it's not just new buildings" Woolstenhulme said. "We have to have more teachers we have to hire, we have to hire more kitchen workers, more custodians and more bus drivers."

In order to become a school bus driver you must have a clean driving record and background, good defensive driving skills, and most of all, a love for kids. Their safety is the most important part of the job. 

"Our drivers drive hundreds of miles and transport thousands of kid safely to school and back home again every day and they really are a critical piece of what we do," Wimborne said.

Bender agrees. 

"However many kids are on your route that day, that's how many kids that you have to watch for their safety," she said. 

Becoming a bus driver also means you're joining a family. For Bender, that family atmosphere is what keeps her driving. 

"The people that you work with and the kids that you drive," she said. 

Drivers must take a CDL test and get proper licensing in order to become a bus driver. If you think driving a school bus might be for you, you can find a link to the District 93 website here and the District 91 website here.

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