Iowa schools are increasingly having difficulty hiring the 9,000 drivers needed for the 7,500 buses and other school vehicles daily transporting K-12 students.
As of August 27th, nearly a week after classes began, Cedar Rapids Transportation Director, Scott Wing, has 19 vacancies, and says he would hire 30 drivers to provide an adequate pool of substitutes.
“We do have a shortage,” admits Max Christensen, directing transportation issues for Iowa’s Department of Education, “but I’ve been in the business 31 years, and I can’t think of a year when we didn’t have shortage.”
Iowa’s low rate of unemployment undoubtedly influences the scramble to fill the mostly part-time driver jobs, but school administrators cite other contributing factors.
Cedar Rapids Senior Fleet Supervisor, Ray Gongwer, says “the entire process of obtaining and maintaining the required commercial driver’s license has become very complicated” with demanding requirements. But, Gongwer also alludes to changing behaviors on the bus.
“It’s a difficult job,” says Marshalltown Superintendent Theron Schutte, “and it’s become more difficult. We’re seeing more kids with behaviors that are not the kind we’d like to see. That can be particularly problematic while driving a bus.”
Marshalltown hires bus monitors to assist drivers in maintaining order.
Southeast Polk Transportation Director, Dan Schultz has eight driver vacancies beginning this school year. He says constant reliance on substitute drivers exacerbates behavior issues. He needs 75 drivers for the district’s 60 bus routes.
"Just like in a classroom,” explains Schultz, “when you put a substitute teacher in, you put a different one in every day. Well, that’s what we’re doing and it causes social confusion.”
Eric Henderson, who has been driving all types of buses during the past 35 years, says he finds his job behind the steering wheel of an Anamosa school bus to be relaxing. But, Henderson says his authority to keep order on during bus ride has diminished.
“It ties the hands of the driver,” said Henderson. “Years ago, we were able to handle discipline more ourselves. But now, it’s pretty much through the school district.”
Forest City Schools Superintendent Darwin Lehmann is filling school bus driver seats by requiring a commercial bus driver license for certain other employment positions. Lehmann says two custodians also drive morning bus routes and two other custodians drive in the afternoon. Full time employment also provides benefit packages for the combination positions.
Pay doesn’t seem to be the issue. Some districts are paying 25 dollars or more per hour to bus drivers. That’s more than some registered nurses are earning in Des Moines health care settings.