School bus adjust

Students are impacted by a shortage of bus drivers.

Rachel Hostetler, Online Chief Writer

School bus scheduling and services are apt to flighty changes. Head cross country coach Elizabeth Warren said the situation with transportation has been unique this semester. 

“We’ve had a bus cancel, we’ve had them not show up on time, or need to change times, or only show up with one bus when we needed two,” Warren said. 

Junior cross country runner Taylor Steenson said the situation affected her performance in one of her races.

“We were going to our meet, and we went to the wrong school. We were sitting there for like 20 minutes, and then we found the right place,” Steenson said. “We sprinted out of the bus; we had like 20 minutes to warm up.” 

Warren said the lost warm-up time caused problems, including anxiety for the runners and herself. 

“In cross country, you have to warm up in order to prevent injury and also to allow your body to get in the right zone to race, and have a good race, good time, all of the above,” Warren said. “So we got there with maybe 20 minutes to spare when they needed 45. They had to cut their warm-up in half, which could risk them getting injured.”
Steenson was running in the first race and said her legs felt very tired. She said she was not fully prepared for the race. 

Another time, Warren said the buses had to cancel the day before a meet. Warren said she had to send frantic emails to all of the parents of the athletes. 

“When the bus canceled on us, I had to get a ride for every athlete last minute the night before,” Warren said. “It causes unnecessary stress.” 

Warren attributed the problem to a lack of bus drivers. 

“I think this is a problem because they are short-staffed; they just can’t hire people,” Warren said. 

Blue Valley Director of Business Operations Jason Gillam said in a normal year, Blue Valley can find just enough people to keep all the bus routes running. This year, however, has been more difficult. 

“There is a national bus driver shortage- it is not just a Blue Valley challenge,” Gillam said. 

Gillam accredited part of the problem to the economics of the Blue Valley area. 

“I will say that historically, it has been a little more challenging in BV to attract and retain bus drivers,” Gillam said. “Mainly because very few of them actually live in our community and come from our community. I want to say five percent or less.” 

With an estimated 95 percent of bus drivers coming from outside the area, Gillam said the drivers are passing up other jobs, which can be a hard sell.

“We usually have to pull [drivers] from neighboring communities to come work here, so we have a lot of folks that will come from really all four directions of us, but they’re driving a good distance to get here.”

Gillam said there are many incentives in place to attract new drivers. 

“Durham is our partner for providing bus service for the school district, and they have recruiters that work to attract bus drivers. They do a lot of different types of events, they even go door to door trying to solicit bus drivers from areas and communities we’ve had success getting bus drivers before,” Gillam said. 

According to Gillam, Durham is offering a $1000 bonus to drivers who refer someone to become a bus driver and stay with the BV District. He also said this would be a great fundraiser for a civic group or church because Durham can write the referral check to the church, fundraiser or individual. 

Gillam said Durham is also offering a bus driver a sign-on bonus. He said Durham will pay out the sum in a couple of payments to make sure the driver will stay with Blue Valley. 

“If they already have a CDL and they’re coming from somewhere else, and they want to drive for us, they get a $3000 sign-on bonus. They get a little bit more because we don’t have to pay to put them through the training and testing,” Gillam said. 

If the prospective driver has no experience driving a bus, Durham will also pay for the training required to obtain a CDL (commercial driver’s license). This license endorses the holder’s ability to transport people. Gillam said the classwork costs about $2500 and takes between six and eight weeks to complete. 

“They pay the driver $1500 as a thank you for making it all the way through the course,” Gillam said. 

Blue Valley is hiring or graduating two or three new bus drivers every week, which he said was good. However, he also said the challenge is the problem of losing drivers. 

“We lost some [driver’s] earlier this semester because they got burnt out. They got burnt out because not only were they doing their route, they were maybe helping cover someone else’s route. That can be stressful when that’s not a route they’ve practiced,” Gillam said. 

On top of covering other drivers’ routes, Gillam said the drivers would sometimes encounter parents or families that were upset at the tardiness of the buses, not realizing the driver was already going out of their way to solve the problem as best they could. Despite this, Gillam said the District is doing its best to retain as many drivers as possible. 

“We try to do everything we can to protect them and show them that they are supported and help them with their job,” Gillam said.

While buses may be later than usual, Gillam said there will always be a bus if students are expecting one. 

“If we have a bus route that doesn’t have a driver that day. It doesn’t mean that those kids aren’t going to get a ride, it likely means that they’ll be late. We’ll always send a bus back if there’s no bus driver for that route to get those kids home,” Gillam said.