Decorah Community Schools, like many schools across the nation, is struggling to fill their open slots for bus drivers. Transportation Director Jim Samuelson says that while staffing shortages have not yet significantly impacted services, that certainly could be an outcome based on current interest in the positions. Staff shortages have resulted in some minor tweaking of routes and forced the use of substitute drivers. But with winter coming and some substitutes leaving town for the season, Samuelson sees some real challenges to fill the needed spots.
Beyond the immediate concern, Samuelson sees a need for 7-9 new drivers when the North Winneshiek merger becomes complete next year. This is far beyond any previous recruitment need. The merger amplifies the challenge, not by only increased numbers of students, but by limiting route potentials as they need to comply with state guidelines restricting the amount of time students can spend on a bus ride (1 hour).
According to Samuelson, The Iowa Public Transportation magazine listed the three main reasons that districts are having a difficult time filling positions, in this order: 1) concerns potential drivers have about addressing behavioral issues; 2) hesitancy to complete the approximately 20 hours of training (most of it online) in preparation for CDL (commercial drivers license) testing; and 3) pay scales.
How does Decorah stack up in those challenges?
Although Decorah Schools are viewed favorably from a behavioral perspective, Samuelson acknowledges this to be a concern – one that seems to be growing in the grades 1-4 category. 25-60 kids on a bus with no supervision other than the driver can be a challenge. Some schools hire an associate to ride along – a regional metro school was recently recruiting those positions for about $14/hour. Decorah has not yet needed to implement this bus driver support, but if trends continue it might need to be considered.
The barrier of training and testing is hard to quantify, but the wages and hours can present a challenge. Beginning Decorah drivers might earn from $70 - $100 per day for driving two routes. Although this may calculate to a good hourly rate, the issue for many prospective drivers is the confining nature of having to run an early morning route and then returning later in the day.
What would happen if the district can not find enough drivers? It would depend on the extent of shortages, but the change in services would most likely begin with limiting city pick-ups and shuttle systems.
Anyone interested in being a bus driver can contact Mr. Samuelson at 382-4165.