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"Competitive Environment" for Recruiting School Bus Drivers

Rich Egger

Some school districts across the nation don't have enough bus drivers, while other districts say they're getting by. TSPR spoke with a with a couple local school superintendents about the issue to get their thoughts.

Macomb Superintendent Patrick Twomey has called the school bus driver shortage "a crisis." He blamed the problem on the pandemic.

“Really, when this virus thing hit, it created a significant shortage across the country in bus drivers,” he said.  “Some of it naturally because as you look community-to-community, many of the bus drivers were elderly, and many of the people in that population made a conscious choice that they didn’t feel like it was in their best interest to continue to drive a bus full of children.”

Dr. Twomey said the shortage is unusual in Macomb. He said the district has about two dozen full-time routes and normally has more than enough drivers for them. But now it has just 18 drivers.

Twomey said the district continues searching for more drivers, and he said the positions might prove attractive to those who recently retired.

“If we could encourage just three, four, five newly retired people to drive morning and night, even if they didn’t want to drive five days a week. If you had ten people who wanted to drive two days a week, just to help out, collectively it would solve the problem,” he said.

Twomey says the district has boosted bus driver pay from $12 an hour three years ago to $18.50 now. It’s also offering signing bonuses.

In the neighboring West Prairie School District, Superintendent Guy Gradert said their routes are all covered currently. The district runs nine routes over its 244 square miles.

“We have been very fortunate to remain steadily staffed in our transportation department. We had a retirement in the last year, we had a resignation a couple weeks before school. However, we have been able to recruit replacements for those individuals,” he said.

But Gradert cautioned that it is always a challenge to fill school bus driver positions.

“I’m going into my tenth year as a superintendent (he previously led the Ridgeview School District in McLean County) and I don’t think there’s one year where I was not posting for a driver or a substitute driver. And so that really has been ongoing in education for a long time,” he said.

“But currently we are not faced with some of the challenges that our neighboring districts are.”

Gradert called this a “competitive environment” for hiring school bus drivers and said districts are constantly in recruitment mode.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.