Michigan school districts struggle to find school bus drivers as kids return

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Superintendents in Michigan and across the country say there is a critical shortage of bus drivers. Students are now back in class, but districts across the state are still looking for drivers and new ways to recruit.

The shortage of bus drivers is an ongoing problem and there is little sign of it improving.

“I would say that over the past five years it has intensified,” says Roger Cole, principal of Morley-Stanwood Community Schools.

The Michigan Department of Education placed bus drivers on its critical list of public school job shortages in 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased pressure on the problem.

“Last year we only had one submarine that felt comfortable going in and continuing to drive during the pandemic. So that put me and my secretary, Karen, on the road a lot, ”says Lisa Cole, Chippewa Hills School District Transportation Supervisor.

Karen had let her license expire and was forced to re-take training and testing for her license in order to complete. Lisa says the testing requirements are part of the problem.

“Some of the state tests that we have to undergo as bus drivers, I believe, are a little more in-depth than what bus driving involves,” she says.

Lisa Cole is replacing as a driver because she has no backup drivers – a difficult position to fill. They often work a few hours with little or no benefits.

Superintendents have also swapped their desks for the driver’s seat. Reed City Area Public Schools Superintendent Michael Sweet was a licensed bus driver for most of his administrative career.

“I wanted to bring the kids home because if things happened often you had to double the routes or maybe you had to babysit after school for a few hours before another bus driver became available. Explains Sweet.

Sweet – like any driver – has a commercial driver’s license and school bus approval to be able to drive a bus.

Drivers don’t just have a CDL and school bus approval. They need a Class A or B license with passenger approval. They must also pass written exams and complete up to eighteen hours of training. That’s all before you get behind the wheel.

“We have at least 17 hours of on-the-road experience with them when they drive the bus,” says Teresa Bohr, bus driver and trainer for First Student LLC. “They learn to make railroads, they learn to make stops for children. By the time I’m ready to send them to the state, they know everything.

First Student LLC in Harrison spent the summer recruiting. They even created shirts with “Ask me for my work?” »Slogans written on it. They even offer to let people drive the bus.

“I tell them, come and try it,” Bohr said. “I’ll take you around the parking lot.” A lot of them say I can’t handle this bus. Yes, it is 40 feet long. So what?”

Bohr was the County Clare sheriff’s deputy before retiring at age 55. She was working as a school resources manager when asked if she wanted to drive retired school buses.

“I thought it wasn’t a bad job because I’m already taking care of the kids,” she says. “I already know the families. I enjoy the summers. Snow days off. Why not? So I tried. And now we are here.

First Student even offers work to parents who wish to drive and bring their children with them.

The average rate of pay for a part-time bus driver is $ 16 in Michigan. Some schools will now pay for public holidays and offer overtime. They can even pay for training. Although all of these additional incentives may not be enough.

It can be stressful work, transporting the most valuable cargo. Most drivers will say this can be one of the most rewarding jobs around, too.

“You build a relationship with the kids and you often know that relationship forms, you can tell when the kids are having a bad day and you can give them a little word of encouragement,” says Lisa Cole.

When school resumes, people are reminded to follow the rules of the road when it comes to school bus safety. It could save a life.

“Every time someone passes your stop arm, you have a hole in your stomach. A car came very quickly between when I opened the door for the student to come out and walk around the front of the door. the bus, ”says Sweet.“ I was yelling at him to stop because I could smell it and looking in my rearview mirror, this car was going to pass right in front of us and the car did. ”

Schools will also have safety measures in place on buses to guard against COVID.

“Everyone who takes a bus is going to have to wear a mask. We have hand sanitizer on our buses, ”says Sweet. “We always want to take every precaution possible to ensure the safety of everyone on our buses. ”

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