SUSSEX, Wis. - In January, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation noted "a strain on school districts amid a shortage of school bus drivers." As families prepare for the 2022-2023 school year, the vice president of one bus company said that shortage has eased for some districts.
In response to the shortage, the DOT announced a temporary waiver "to get more bus drivers behind the wheel and encourage former drivers to reinstate." Drivers seeking their school bus license could have the portion of the test that identifies "under the hood" engine components waived through the end of March. All other components of the written and road tests remained.
Additionally, a waiver from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration temporarily allowed states to modify the CDL test for school bus drivers. Drivers receiving a CDL under this temporary waiver were permitted to operate intrastate school buses only.
(FOX 35 Orlando)
Sussex recruitment event
Jeri Rodriguez has been behind the wheel for 12 years. She took part in a Dairyland Bus Company recruiting event Thursday, Aug. 11, hoping to inspire others to join her field.
"We need the younger generation to step up and get into a bus!" said Rodriguez.
The bus company, in conjunction with Student Transportation of America, hosted a driving course at Silver Spring Intermediate School in Sussex Thursday, allowing people to take a test drive in a school bus.
"When we have an opportunity to bring somebody new in the industry, it’s pretty exciting," said Mike Goff, Dairyland vice president.
Goff said a handful of people applied at Thursday's event. The company serves five southeast Wisconsin school districts. After coronavirus pandemic-related education disruptions, Goff said the focus is on making sure drivers are ready for a new school year.
"Ensuring that, as drivers came back to work from the pandemic, that they were safely trained and didn’t lose any of those skills while schools may have been shut down," said Goff.
Bus driver shortage ‘a byproduct of the pandemic’
Even before the pandemic, in 2019, Dousman Transport Company told FOX6 they were struggling with a school bus driver shortage, calling it an "industry-wide issue for transportation in general." Officials at Dousman Transport said office staff members were filling in as drivers.
Milwaukee Public Schools was one of the districts juggling a driver shortage during the pandemic, possibly due to late communication between bus companies and the district, at least in one instance.
In August 2021, MPS' director of transportation noted an active effort to "get bodies in here." A representative with First Student said the difficulty was bus drivers were out of work for a long period of time due to the pandemic and "did not have reliable means," calling the shortage "a byproduct of the pandemic."
Shortage eases for at least 3 districts
Goff said Thursday the Sussex-Hamilton School District has enough drivers to cover the routes for the 2022-2023 school year, but that doesn't mean they're not hiring.
"We may have some driver turnover, some absenteeism, some sick days or what have you that we want to ensure we’re staffed above what are needs are," said Goff.
School District of Waukesha Superintendent James Sebert told FOX6 Thursday they have enough drivers to cover before and after school routes and are still hiring drivers for extracurricular activities.
Racine Unified School District administrators said they're confident in their bus driver staff, with only about 10 vacancies as of Thursday.
"It’s going to be better than last year, I think," said Rodriguez. "Last year was hard."
Becoming a school bus driver
Some bus companies are offering incentives to attract drivers. For example, Dairyland offers a sign-on bonus, paid training, a weekly attendance bonus and a starting salary of $19.01.
Dousman offers paid training, paid DOT physical, paid CDL licensing, paid quarterly benefits and competitive wages.