Finding school bus drivers is getting harder. Many school districts are canceling routes or doubling up to get kids to school.
Lebanon Community School Corporation Transportation Director Becky Nichols has not had to cancel any bus routes this year, but she’s been close.
“I’ve been having to cover five or six routes every day,” Nichols said about covering drivers who need a day off. “My secretary is helping drive. My mechanic got his license and he’s helping drive every day. I’ve been using every person I have.”
Each school day, the corporation transports 1,900 students.
Substitute drivers are even harder to find. At its last meeting, the school board approved a program to pay current maintenance, grounds and custodial employees a $300 bonus when they get a commercial driver’s license or CDL. Then they could be asked to substitute on one of the district’s 36 daily routes.
“We thought if we could get some of our current employees … entice them to get their license, they would be available if and when we have such an emergency that we couldn’t cover our routes,” Nichols said of the bonus program which also pays for the fees associated with securing a physical and fees for a CDL. “We will pay for all of the training to get your school bus license.”
Schools across the nation have suffered driver shortages forcing alternatives to a straight route. These alternatives range from staggered pickup times to cancelling routes.
Driving a school bus is a part time job paying $17 an hour beginning in January. Nichols realizes it usually doesn’t pay enough for many needing to work.
“They’re only paid for 183 days,” she said. “We offer health insurance, 403B, long-term disability (insurance).”
The six-hour workday only happens when school is in session, too. It starts by 7 a.m. then ends at 9 a.m. before the afternoon routes start up around 2 p.m.
“So, with it being split up like that, that’s not conducive to a lot of people,” she said. “Most people that you find that need to work, need full-time work.”
For LCSC, Nichols said, the plan would be to stagger routes, getting the kids in late. She would avoid canceling routes if at all possible.
“We would try to figure something out here to go ahead and get them to school,” she said. “We have not had to do that as of yet.”
She is working on making changes to a few routes and doing away with an entire route, and there is another plan she’s considering. For now, the bonus is available.