Bus rides to and from school may be a bit a longer than usual for children this year. There may also be more students riding on those routes. This is one of the impacts of a shortage of bus drivers for the Lake Mills Area School District (LMASD).
Director of Business Services Tasha Naylor said currently the district, which operates its own transportation fleet, would like to get two to three more drivers.
“That would make us more comfortable,” Naylor said.
According to her, within the LMASD there are nine members of the transportation department, including the director of transportation, who have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) that is required to operate a school bus.
The driver shortage has required the district to combine some of the pick-up and drop-off routes, Naylor said.
“Not only does this have our students on longer than we would prefer but also the capacity on those buses are a little bit more than what we would prefer,” she said. “It’s still within reason but combining those creates longer times on the bus. … Fortunately, we’re still within the state law of how long is recommended but we just like to keep it at a certain place.”
The bus driver shortage is not a challenge unique to the local school district. Across the United States school districts are trying to find remedies to the lack of drivers. Governors of Ohio and Massachusetts have called on members of their respective National Guards. According to reports, Milwaukee Public School leaders had tried to follow suit, though Gov. Tony Evers denied the request. MPS is now planning to pay families to drive their children to school as a way to alleviate the transportation challenges.
The other challenge of the driver shortage locally is getting athletic teams transported to contests. Naylor explained this is due to a bit of overlap between when the athletes need to get to their event and when the afternoon bus routes are completed.
She said Athletic Director Stephen Considine has been able to contact the host teams and have contests times pushed back a bit to allow the drivers to complete the regular route before transporting sports teams.
“That’s caused a bit of a juggling act with the different athletic events,” Naylor said.
This is the first year LMASD experienced a driver shortage, to the best of the business director’s knowledge. According to her, last year the district was searching for substitute drivers as opposed to regular route drivers.
“This is the first year it’s been this bad,” Naylor said.
She said the shortage is due to recent retirements and the positions have not yet been filled “much to our efforts of trying to recruit.”
Naylor said the district has been proactive in attempting to retain the services of a transportation company if it would become needed. LMASD has contacted private businesses that charter buses to see if the district would be able to hire them for an occasion when the driver shortage would impact the ability to transport students to an event.
“They are finding that if it’s within the school day, absolutely not – there’s no way they can help because there already have obligations with other districts,” she said.
However, the companies the district spoke with, gave the impression it would be able to assist with after-school transport to events such as athletic contests would be possible, according to Naylor.
So far, the lack of bus drivers has not impacted any planned school field trips. The business director said LMASD, “will cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Lake Mills has been able to find other transportation options for smaller groups of students. The district has several passenger vans that staff members who meet certain qualifications but are not required to have a CDL are able to transport students.
Furthermore, if athletic teams from the middle or high school are traveling to the same community for a contest there has been instances when all travel on the same bus. Naylor said this requires some minor adjustments but has worked out well.
“Everyone has been as flexible as possible,” the business director said.