Bus driver shortage causing problems

Lack of qualified, interested candidates is the challenge, district administrators say


Many students look forward to the day they are able to drive. For those who are still counting down the days, the bus is their only option.

While a school bus isn’t most students’ preferred method of transportation, it is the most common. According to the Boone County Schools’ website, more than 16,000 students in the district ride a bus to and from school daily.

School buses have to cover a lot of ground every day. That means that the demand for bus drivers is fairly high, which is where the difficulty lies.

The issue of bus driver shortages in Boone County has caused a growing number of predicaments for the students, parents, and administrators involved.

Boone Principal Tim Schlotman said that there have been bus changes nearly every day, both morning and afternoon.

Many buses have also been forced to take extra routes to compensate for the lack of drivers. As a result, students have regularly been getting home up to an hour late.

“It’s been a hardship on the students and their families,” said Schlotman, who indiciated he has received numerous calls and emails from parents.

Boone sophomore Gabriela Da Silva said that she has been having bus issues since elementary school, but lately they’ve gotten worse.

She said that she is often caught waiting alone in the cold for her bus to arrive in the mornings. That leads to her being late to school and missing important classes in the beginning of the day.

While sitting on the front steps of the school waiting for her late bus to take her home, Da Silva spoke about how her main frustration was the lack of communication between the school and parents.

“(School administrators are) really bad at communicating whether the bus is going to be late or have a substitute or be a different bus number. The students don’t know what’s going on, so we just sit and wait and hope we get a ride,” she said.

The school makes efforts to communicate the daily bus issues to the students and families when they are aware them.

If a driver is forced to take a double route or will be later than usual, the dilemma is often posted on the school’s twitter or an all call is sent out.

Schlotman said he does his best to notify the students of late buses, but there isn’t much he can do. He often doesn’t find out about the late bus until he is on his way to work or arrives at the school.

Boone sophomore Austin Duncan said he couldn’t count with both hands how many times the bus has been late this year. He said it affects his parents as well, for he is constantly calling them to pick him up from school.

Duncan said that the bus driver shortages are even affecting his school work and personal life. Getting home an hour late tends to cut into his available study time before he must leave for baseball practices and games.

“This has really pushed back my homework and athletic career in Boone County,” he said.

Duncan also spoke about how it is dangerous for students to wait alone in the mornings for their bus to show. He said there are days where the bus is up to half an hour late or has a different bus number, so students don’t know which bus to get on or when it will arrive.

The Boone County Transportation Department says they are doing what they can to try to fix the problem.

Schlotman believes that the reason behind this shortage is that not enough qualified candidates are applying for the position, and the class required to be a driver isn’t a breeze. The passing rate of CDL training, the class required for someone to be a bus driver, is around one in five he said.

Boone County Community Relations Coordinator Barbara Brady said that not every applicant is accepted for various reasons. Drivers cannot have a criminal record, must have a good driving and working history, be in good health, and be able to pass the CDL.

The district advertises open positions at meetings and on their website, but Schlotman believes the pay is what turns many down from applying.

Brady agreed that money had a large impact in the lack of qualified applicants. She said that “when the economy is good, people have other, more lucrative options for work.”

Brady also spoke about how the lack of bus drivers has put its toll on the transportation department. She said that every transportation employee who has a CDL is needed to cover extra routes. That takes critical positions, such as mechanics and dispatchers, out of the office, which isn’t an ideal situation for the department.

Boone County bus driver Kevin Fannin believes that pay isn’t the only reason for the driver shortage. If more people understood the description of the job, then there might be more drivers inclined to apply.

Many people don’t fully understand the impact a bus driver can make on the students, said Fannin.

“A lot of times (their bus driver is) the only positive thing they see,” he said, explaining how the best part of his job was making a positive impact on the kids.

Fannin also spoke about how the shortage puts extra stress on the drivers. Many drivers are constantly working overtime to get the kids to where they need to be

Brady said that the issue of bus driver shortages plagues schools nation-wide. The only way to alleviate the problem is to hire more drivers, but that’s difficult considering the lack of applicants.