The wheels on the bus aren’t going round and round in some districts nearly enough, leading some to look at a complete retooling of how to get kids to school safely.
A shortage of drivers in all industries is hampering school bus operations, Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools Executive Director Dave Ardrey said.
“Those folks have other opportunities in other places to drive as well and so it’s a smaller pool that’s available to drive our school buses at that point,” Ardrey said.
Large Unit District Association Executive Director John Burkey said the shortage of bus drivers was around before COVID-19, but it’s been exacerbated in the past 20 months.
Teachers and administrators in some areas are getting behind the wheel to ensure kids get to school, Burkey said. Some districts are shifting schedules to accommodate a lack of drivers.
Among the issues are the changes in the labor force. Burkey said retirees may no longer want to do part-time work.
A number of things could help, but there’s no easy fix to the problem.
“I don’t think this problem is going to go away,” Burkey said. “I think we can do things to make it better, but I don’t think we’re going to go back to the day of people lined up for bus driver jobs.”
Both Burkey and Ardrey said another factor is the need for full transportation funding from the state. Some districts see reductions in state funding through proration. But it may take more than funding. Burkey suggested rethinking how to get kids to school.
“I think another thing that we’re looking at a little bit is not requiring drivers of small vans that transport students to and from school to require a [commercial driver’s license],” Burkey said.
Ardrey said that’s a workable solution.
“It might open up other community-based opportunities, community-based jobs, for people that live in the community that may not want to or pass the CDL,” Ardrey said.
PHOTO: East St. Louis School District students from Avant Elementary School. IBJ file photo