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Back to Learning: Schools in desperate need of school bus drivers

Columbia School District doesn't have enough drivers to fill routes
Schools dealing with bus driver shortage
Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 5:16 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - A lot of mid-Michigan students will be going back to learning in the next few weeks, and for the districts with in-person classes, finding ways to get kids to the classroom might be a challenge.

Schools have no problem filling passenger seats on the school bus, the problem is filling the driver’s seat.

Bill Bradley, Columbia School District Operations Director, said he’s never seen anything like this.

“I don’t have enough drivers to fill all the buses. I’ll be driving a bus and I never drove a bus on the first day of school,” Bradley said. “I was the sub. Now I’m not the sub anymore.”

For Bradley to have never had to drive on a first day is saying something, since he’s been at the job for 20 years as Columbia School District’s Operations Director. Yet on this school year he will be starting short on bus drivers, after he had three quit over the summer because of COVID-19 health concerns.

Bradley said, “Those three drivers that left me, that makes all the difference in the world.”

Bradley told News 10 enough students enrolled in online instruction he was able to eliminate one route, but even if Bradley had someone to hire it would still be too late to get them ready for the first day. The training Michigan requires for school bus drivers could take six weeks.

Michigan Center Schools Transportation Supervisor Tony Clemons says he believes that’s part of the short term problem, if a good thing overall.

“To have all those qualifications, passenger endorsements, school bus endorsements, CDL, air break, I think that’s half the reason we have a shortage, which is great,” Clemons said, People are better trained these days than it was before.”

The other part of the problem is COVID-19.

"You're not only looking after yourself, now it's affecting you and your family," said Clemons.

Bradley doesn't want to think about what would happen if one his drivers had to quarantine for two weeks.

"We're going to have to make phone calls and tell parents we just don't have someone to come bring their kids in," Bradley told News 10.

Bradley said parents calling asking where their child's bus is shouldn't expect anyone to answer, because the people answering the phones are driving the bus.

If you are interested in becoming a bus driver, contact your local school district. Many districts offer training.

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