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'People are not even applying.' Michigan dealing with bus driver shortage as school year nears

Posted at 2:03 PM, Jul 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 18:27:08-04

(WXYZ) — Throughout the pandemic, the biggest challenge for schools was keeping kids safe in the classroom. The issue now however, is getting them there.

“As drivers were retiring or if drivers decided to change their career path, we were not replacing them just because ridership was down,” said Greg Dixon, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources at L'Anse Creuse Schools.

With hundreds of kids moving from virtual to in person learning this fall, L'Anse Creuse school district needs more bus drivers. They’re hoping to hire 15 people in the midst of a nationwide worker shortage.

“On some levels it seems like a bidding war back and forth between who’s going to offer the most,” Dixon said.

This is the largest number of bus driver openings they’ve ever had at once, according to Dixon, but the shortage is nothing new.

“Currently people are not even applying to be school bus drivers,” said David Meeuwsen, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Pupil Transportation. "They’re getting some applicants, but not near as many as they need.”

Meeuwsen says basically every district in the state is looking for drivers and some have had to alternate between routes, telling parents their kid only gets a ride 2 weeks each month.

“I’ve talked to supervisors who said their superintendents have sent letters to parents last spring saying we don’t have enough bus drivers,” Meeuwsen said.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, bus drivers were added to the state’s critical shortage list of public school personnel in 2016. They remain on list today.

2020-21 Critical Shortage Retirees List by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

“It’s a tight market. Tough out there for everybody. For schools and school bus drivers, it’s no different," Meeuwsen said.

Meeuwsen feels on top of COVID, the shortage is also caused by lower wages and less retirement benefits

"I had lots of folks who would be retired truck drivers, or retired factory workers. They retire in their early 50s, mid 50s and they would be still looking for something to do a little bit. They would come and drive a school bus, and if they got in 10 or 15 years they would have another little retirement on the side. It’s a little different today,” Meeuwsen said.

Dixon says drivers in L’Anse Creuse are eligible for benefits and a state pension. They put together a promo video to help recruit bus drivers, and are holding test drive hiring events with on site interviews.

While they pay over $18 an hour, Meeuwsen says down the road wages will likely have to increase.

"If you see McDonald's now, you can start at 15 an hour. There are some districts who start their bus drivers at that,” Meeuwsen said. "I think in time, you’re going to see the wages for school bus drivers go up quite a bit.”

With under 2 months to go, they and other schools are running out of time to get drivers hired, trained, and out the door.

“It’s crunch time, yes it is. For school busses it’s crunch time,” Meeuwsen said. “It's a month to get people through (training), if not a couple.”

“Ultimately it’s a logistics issue. If we can’t get the kids to school because there aren’t enough drivers, we’d have to be very creative in regards to how would we do that,” Dixon said. "We would have to have double runs and some students would arrive at school at a different time than others.”

L'Anse Creuse is holding a test drive hiring event, giving potential employees the chance to test drive a school bus. It takes place at L'Anse Creuse Middle School on July 21 from 1:00pm- 4:00pm.

For more info, call 586-783-6550.