FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The bus driver pool for Southwest Allen County Schools (SACS) is continuing to dwindle.
The shortage of bus drivers isn’t a unique issue for SACS – it’s a problem plaguing districts across the county, state and nation. On Monday, a letter signed by the district’s superintendent Park D. Ginder, PH.D and delivered to parents explained the bus driver shortage.
“There was a time when many of SACS’ drivers were retirees, farmers, realtors, and/or small business owners,” letter stated. “The part-time, staggered work day of a bus driver was considered ideal for a person seeking a reliable job opportunity with benefits.”
According to Ginder, the shortage isn’t caused by the pandemic, but COVID “exacerbated” the issue.
Steve Lake, SACS’ transportation director, told WANE 15 that at the beginning of the school year, out of 70 drivers, the district was short four drivers/routes. Since then, four more drivers were placed on extended medical leave, which caused the district to be down a total of eight routes.
“That’s not even counting in the morning,” Lake said. “We’ll get a message from a driver saying I have a sick kid at home, I don’t feel good myself. Those are the surprises that catch ya.”
To fill open routes, some drivers have come out of retirement. District mechanics, secretaries and the routing supervisor are also stepping up to help out.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Lake said. “We have mechanics, that will be working on something and have to put their tools down and going out to drive busses. Out of our three mechanics, they drive almost every morning. I have a secretary who drives almost every day and then comes back and picks up her job and tries to get caught up. It’s not like we aren’t trying to service our community. “
Despite the extra hands, the district still doesn’t have enough drivers for the different routes, resulting in some of them being canceled and students not having transportation to school. Lake said he knows this isn’t a great situation and that he is very sympathetic.
“We keep track of every route that we cancel, what school that we cancel, and we try to spread those out so we’re not affecting too many kids within a close proximity of certain dates,” Lake said. “We try and give the parents at least 24-hours notice before we cancel any routes. Some mornings that can’t happen and those are the mornings when we have a surprise illness.”
The shortage of truck drivers also plays into the impact of the bus driver shortage. The profession of a bus driver is more like a part-time job, and with other CDL jobs paying more, it’s making it harder for the school bus industry to compete. Lake explained that when someone leaves to get paid more as a truck driver, it takes at least a month to replace that driver.
For drivers, SACS offers full time benefits. Pay depends on the level of experience. The district said what sets them apart is that drivers are paid while being trained. For those who do not have a CDL license the district will provide training for the license. If interested, click here to apply.