Indiana school bus driver shortage


CARMEL – The shortage of school bus drivers continues to disrupt local school districts looking for ways to get students to and from their classes.

Schools in Pike Township on Monday announced the switch to e-learning for two days this week after 10 bus routes were hit by a lack of available drivers.

Ten routes were directly impacted last week, eight of them canceled and two delayed.

Carmel Clay Schools have also openly faced shortages of school bus drivers, but their solution was markedly different.

“We are all in exactly the same situation. It doesn’t matter what school district you are in, ”said Gary Clevenger, assistant director of facilities and transportation at Carmel Clay Schools. “It was just a matter of math and we knew based on how many drivers we had with how many buses and routes they could possibly drive for us in a reasonable amount of time… that it was was the number of students we could transport.

Prior to the start of the school year, Carmel Clay Schools knew they faced a challenge, a shortage of school bus drivers to begin with, now magnified by lingering problems with the pandemic.

Their plan was to create bus-free zones within a mile of schools. Students living in this space should travel to the school as drivers focused on students living further away.

“It’s a problem that’s not unique to one or two districts, it’s not just here and there, it’s going to happen and it’s going to get bigger so we thought. It is better to tackle the problem and not pursue it. Our plan allowed us to transport as many students as possible to school with the line numbers we had. We may have been the first this year to implement this, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if you saw other districts considering or even implementing this in the future. “

It came as no surprise to Clevenger when schools in Pike Township made their announcement early Monday morning… but the problem persists. More pilots are needed.

“It’s frustrating… and it’s difficult for everyone, but we just had to take a realistic approach to what we were facing and understand that we weren’t going to hire to get out of this problem… We hired approximately 10 to 12 and they’re in the pipeline, you know, since we started the school year, ”Clevenger said. “It’s not a small responsibility and it is not a small job… we understand this every day when our drivers come here and come to work. They know they have to be the best at what they do because we are the only job in the school system where if we have a bad day … a child or someone else on the road could be injured or worse. We therefore take this responsibility very seriously.

It is a responsibility that some would say is not worth the salary received, the required certifications and the part-time nature of the job.

Indiana State School Bus Driver Association president Ron Chew is expected to disagree, however.

“It takes a special person to take this wheel every day,” said Chew. “In fact, it takes a very special person to be a school bus driver. We can say what’s required in regards to classroom training, driving and all that, but it still takes a special person to do it. Therein lies part of the problem, I suppose… ”

Too few applicants are interested.

“The shortage was already happening before the pandemic hit, and then with the pandemic it really put enormous stress on the educational transportation system nationwide, not just in Indiana,” Chew said. “The numbers I see on driver shortages in parts of the United States are beyond comprehension. It is a very serious problem. It is very concerning and I have never seen anything like it in all the years that I have driven.

Chew has been president of the association for almost 30 years. He maintained his own bus line for over 40 years.

“This is what we have to do. This is what it takes. Because we have to get these kids to school so that they can get an education, because that’s what it is, ”Chew said. “We’re the first to see them in the morning and the last to see them when they get home in the afternoon.”

Some of the stress inherent in work – according to experts like the assistant professor of business economics and public policy at the Kelley School of Business, according to Professor Andrew Butters – is part of why work is seen as less desirable. .

“It’s not a type of job that we can somehow easily get in and out of this industry. This is obviously going to take a while and I think there are certainly still several parts of the job market that are still worried about contracting the virus depending on the type of activity on the bus where you are just going to have a lot of face-to-face interactions. to face with the kids, ”Butters said.

” There is no miracle solution. It will always be something that we will have to be a little bit patient with just to let the whole thing strike a new balance. “

Whatever the circumstances, Chew believes child labor is worth it… but it doesn’t hurt when school districts step up.

“I think that’s a lot of the drivers’ concern,” Chew said. “School systems are now seeing – and it’s sad that it took them this to wake up to that – that drivers are a very important part of the educational process… a very important part and it’s time they got it. their part. “

Carmel Clay Schools approved a significant pay increase for their school bus drivers before the start of the 2021 school year. The biggest pay increase they have ever put in place for their drivers and the biggest increase salary of all employees of the Carmel Clay School.

“We wanted to recognize the hard work they do and recognize that we care about our people. We want to keep existing employees and attract new employees, ”said Clevenger. “This bus driver is a nurse, a doctor, a parent and a therapist and, you know, all possible roles come together when they’re with your kids on the school bus.”

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