The Wentzville School District is just one of many school districts nationwide suffering from a shortage of school bus drivers.
A USA Today article published in August quoted survey results indicating that a third of school districts and more than half of commercial school bus fleets across the country were reporting driver shortages. Almost of quarter of the school districts said their shortage was severe or even desperate.
Wentzville School District Transportation Director David Wilson told 70 West Sentinel that he sees the shortage being directly related to the currently robust economy.
“We started the first day of school this year with 23 bus routes that did not have drivers assigned to them,” Wilson said. Any district employee that was qualified–such as staff members and mechanics–were tapped to drive routes.
“It’s harder to fill the jobs in the summertime, when people aren’t thinking about school,” he said. The district slowly made headway in filling the positions, but there are still 16 bus driver positions available, plus substitute positions.
Wilson said that with jobs being as plentiful as they are right now, driving a school bus is not the first thing that pops into a someone’s mind. It takes 30 days from the day of the job interview to train new drivers and meet all the regulations before a new driver can go out on his first route.
Wilson took over the position as director in August of 2014. Right away, he saw that part of the problem was the pay rate. “It’s the simplest of economic principles,” he said. “Supply and demand.” So he went to the board of education and asked for a pay raise for drivers. This year, starting drivers make $15 an hour. Drivers who have been with the district for eight years can make as much as $19.50 an hour. Wilson would like to see it still higher.
He admits that there is a negative side to the job. “It’s one of the most scrutinized jobs there is, and rightly so,” he said. Drivers must take random drug and alcohol tests and have a physical exam and thorough background check. The district trains their drivers, who must have a Class B license with endorsements.
“It might seem intimidating,” Wilson said. People may think they can’t handle such a large vehicle, but with training, almost anyone can become a competent driver.
Most of the positions are split shifts, with morning routes and afternoon routes. Some positions, however, include the mid-day runs for the preschool. Drivers are also needed for after-school activities like athletics.
Being a bus driver is ideal for many people. “For some people, the school year calendar is a very attractive part of the job,” Wilson said. “For parents with children in school, it means that you’ll have the same vacation days.”
The job can also be very attractive to retirees who are not interested working a 12-month job.
Drivers are guaranteed 25 hours a week, and are considered full-time workers at that point and eligible for benefits. They are also eligible for the Missouri Public School pension program.
“We transport 10,000 students each day,” Wilson said. “That’s the population of a small city.” The district has 170 buses and employs more than 200 people in the transportation department.
Also in St. Charles County, the Fort Zumwalt School District has had a listing for bus drivers on its employment page since March of 2016. “We currently have 10 bus driver positions open,” said Laura Wagner, district spokesperson. Fort Zumwalt pays new drivers $13 an hour. Drivers receive training and benefits.
FZSD has a support staff job fair scheduled for Thursday, November 16 at their offices at 555 East Terra Lane in O’Fallon. Interested persons can interview on the spot for bus driver positions.
“It’s not for everyone, but it’s a great job for a lot of people. In the end, it’s all about the kids,” Wilson said.
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