Districts face bus driver shortage as school year begins

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DES MOINES, Iowa — A lot of talk around back to school has been centered around what will happen inside of the classroom. However, districts are also focused on getting students to the classroom. 

Des Moines Public Schools starts school Wednesday and is still looking for 45 drivers. Johnston Community School District started school Monday. Director of Communications for the district, Laura Sprague, said ideally the district aims to hire drivers prior to the school year, but Johnston is still understaffed.

“We have thousands of kids who depend on school transportation to get to and from schools, and to really make those wheels turn, we literally need people in the bus driver seats who are competent and safety minded,” Sprague said. 

Johnston uses Student Transportation of America for its bus services. 

Currently, STA is encouraging employees to refer people by giving them a $750 bonus, a $1,000 bonus to any new hire who has their Commercial Driving License required to drive a school bus, and $250 bonus for new hires without a CDL. 

DMPS, the largest district in the state, is going even farther with incentives. 

For new hires, DMPS is offering a $2,000 signing bonus and free CDL training, and a $5,000 bonus if you already have your CDL. 

The Transportation Manager with DMPS, Samantha Sonnichsen, said until they get more drivers on board the process of getting to and from school will be a tad slower for students. 

“We’re doing some round robins at eight of our elementary schools. Well, we’re going to go through once bring them in at 7:10 and we’re going to come through again at 7:30 and bring the rest of them in to try to free up a bus out of that school to go to another school to help alleviate them and get the kiddos in,” Sonnichesen said. “Our main priority is servicing our children and getting them to school.” 

Both Johnston and DMPS will follow CDC  guidelines by requiring staff and students to wear masks while on a school bus.

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