Raise Your Hand If You’re Fully Staffed

St. Charles School District faced with bus driver shortage

by Ben Steinhauer, Staff Writer

A trend that has captured the attention of the entire nation abjectly in recent years has been the profound lack of school bus drivers. It leaves many school districts and the states they reside in to call in the national guard to drive buses until their understaffed roster is remediated. Some districts are feeling this quandary in their core foundation enough to where these measures are taken unflinchingly. Problems arise and are only heightened when tasked with the pressure of being competitive and perceptive to the needs of their bus drivers. 

The St. Charles school district is currently undergoing the rippling and sometimes debilitating effects of this shortage. Onset incubations of this malaise started this last school year and has been continuing for close to a full calendar year since then. 

“This is the first year that the St. Charles School district has experienced a driver shortage. It’s been coming for several years around the country and started early last school year, especially St. Charles County for us. We were the only School District who finished up the school year without being short drivers, Cynthia Priest, Director of the Transportation Department for the St. Charles School District said. “We have lost a number of drivers. Who had already moved on to other districts they felt were going to pay them better.”

Although predominantly the opinion for the satisfaction of the drivers isn’t as scathing as this unrelenting shortage may suggest. The issue for defections to other school districts is more nuanced. Former St. Charles High School resource officer Michael Shipley who drives for the St. Charles school district attests to his experience with a colleague of his that switched due to matters of convenience as the commute for them was actually a hindrance. For the most part the scaled back size of the St. Charles School district is seen to play to its advantage and thus it provides for more concentrated camaraderie amongst themselves and their patrons that they drive. Although the shortage unabating as it is, persists. Bus drivers are gauging the increasingly accessible job market across the country to negotiate their price. Pensioners like retired school resources officers Michael Shipley and those looking for commitment in light of this issue may view themselves as being indispensable for their duty. To those fresh on the scene a selling point is crucial and the School Board and Cynthia Priest acknowledge that to its fullest extent. Cynthia Priest says the district pays drivers for the full six weeks of training required, offers guaranteed hours and sick days, and free access to a clinic within the district for them to use. “There are uniforms that are supplied, about our own health clinic within the district is free for them to use,” Cynthia Priest said. 

It is indelibly the case that bus drivers are directly linked to their own shortage by choice though even with all of the perks laid out. 

“The thing with it is that it’s gonna happen because there are better pay opportunities. The city isn’t doing the best to be competitive with them,” Keeton Meyers, a sophomore at St. Charles High said. Keeton has experienced this first hand with his acumen rooted in his dad himself driving a bus and the fact that he is a former bus rider as of the past year. The discontent had been growing with the bus driver shortage and the way it affects Keeton is that he now takes his bike to school. 

Before the qualms of the bus drivers can be addressed and reworked, sometimes measures are reactionary and unexpected until they find themselves being put into place. Cynthia Priest said that these palliatives require them to allocate the bus drivers as assets to more permanent posts because some of them were previously exclusively event drivers. Former school resources officer for St. Charles High Michael Shipley was one of those drivers. The shortage gave him and many bus drivers like him the impetus to take up the mantle and drive full time. 

“We have some part time drivers who drive predominantly after school activities that have limited hours they can work. They have been helping though,” Cynthia Priest said.  

These drivers that can be described as interim are called upon from time to time but there is also a need to train bus drivers and sometimes fresh off the streets. 

“We were able to hire a couple of already licensed drivers to fill a few spots. Two drivers were hired with licenses and four that need to be trained plus someone who was a school bus monitor that had to get her license,” Cynthia Priest said. 

As it pertains to what is considered fully staffed she says 45 drivers and that there are currently 38 that are deployed right now. But relative to the rest of the country the St. Charles School District is considered better off. Other than the routes being a little bit longer and more students per bus the St. Charles school district hasn’t had to resort to outsourcing the pressing need to transport kids to schools like school districts in Reno, Nevada, who resorted to paying parents per mile to drive their kids to school. Cynthia Priest who attends national transportation conventions says that the St. Charles School District doesn’t have to resort to this and that for the most part the transportation department has stuck to its guidelines.

 “We’re blessed there. I attend national conferences every year. It was always raise your hand if you’re fully staffed and the city of St. Charles School District was the only district or presence that was fully staffed,” Cynthia Priest said.  

This all of course changed as of last school year. 

“In terms of it from what I have seen they were down 10 drivers over the summer causing them to expand who’s on a route,” Keeton Meyers, a student at St. Charles High said. In regards to how those vacant positions are being filled Cynthia Priest says they haven’t really gotten much training done over the summer as most of that time spent was in attempts to secure the potential bus drivers as viable candidates. Time that she spent daily checking the school district website to see if any new application requests were sent. For any interested, “Applications are accepted online through the school district site and that is the only way to be accepted,” Cynthia Priest said.

The current bus climate with respect to its patrons and the environment they inhabit is sometimes at tedium. The routes are admittedly longer and more crowded. The buses according to Keeton Meyers are more crowded in the mornings. “It’s pretty much three to a seat,” Michael Shipley said.  

The institutional capacity of transportation especially in St. Charles School District has persevered and tactically has not been too perspicacious to supply incentives. Instead opting to take a more logical and calculated approach. All to refrain from ingratiating themselves with cajoling albeit with the prioritization of integrity and focus on human resources at the forefront. This has worked to keep their employees satisfied and in the roster for as long as they have. The shortage is being delicately and methodically attended to but irreducibly successful as all of the provisions put in place beforehand, regardless of the impact that the driver shortage has had, is consistently proving to be prudent. “We’d like to make a full recovery by the end of the calendar year,” Cynthia Priest said.