School bus driver shortage
Hortonville job fair seeks 15 candidates
By Scott Bellile
Sunlight pours upon the calming beige walls inside Hortonville Area School District’s one-year-old transportation facility. The office workers are upbeat.
It’s hard to realize that the staff here already has a problem on its hands.
Like school districts all across Wisconsin, HASD is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. Although 83 regular and substitute drivers are slated to deliver 3,000 children across 47 routes covering Hortonville, Greenville and parts of Appleton this fall, the district seeks at least 15 more drivers.
“This last year, it was a struggle,” said Denise Delzer, transportation facility secretary and former bus driver.
Delzer said she often arrived to work in the morning to find she needed to assign a route for that same afternoon.
Sometimes the bus mechanics or the secretaries stepped up and drove as a last resort.
“Everybody is short,” Director of Transportation Harold Steenbock said, including New London School District, Lamers Bus Lines and Kobussen Buses.
Steenbock said HASD lost drivers who hold additional part-time jobs within the district. The Affordable Care Act requires an employer to provide benefits packages to workers who reach 30 hours per week and are therefore considered full-time.
Other factors for a driver shortage, according to Steenbock, include: The work schedule of 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon is unappealing to some people; federal and state guidelines require drivers not have hearing loss, vision problems or sleep apnea; and some adults don’t trust themselves to maneuver a large automobile.
“People are intimidated by the bus. Not so much by the kids but by the size of the vehicle,” Steenbock said.
Steenbock hopes to alleviate fears by holding a job fair on July 29. From 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. prospective drivers can stop by HASD’s new bus garage next to Greenville Elementary School and learn about training, testing and the district’s competitive wages ($22.49 per hour for daily routes and $13.50 per hour for extracurricular trips after hours).
“The driving part isn’t hard because all you have to do is do exactly as you were trained when you were 16,” Steenbock said. The challenge, he said, is breaking learned habits like driving one-handed or talking on the phone.
Steenbock said the students’ safety is key, so he would rather be short on drivers than relax his standards. That means even his best employees must fully brake at a stop sign during license renewal tests or lose their jobs.
“We don’t lower our standards,” Steenbock said. “We just work harder to find other people: the good ones.”
HASD bus driver Jeanne Antoniewicz drove a van for the district after retirement before Steenbock asked her to get licensed to steer a bus. Like others in her shoes, she feared the size of the vehicle.
“It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is so big. Am I going to be able to handle it?’” Antoniewicz said.
“Sixty, 70 kids?” she asked herself. “Come on, I’m retired.”
Driving a bus was “not on my bucket list,” Antoniewicz said, and she thought she would fail the test. Her husband, also a driver for Steenbock, convinced her to take the test.
Antoniewicz passed. She said the job has improved her driving, the pay for three hours of work is great, the crew is supportive and she loves the students, she said.
“The more I drove the regular route, and the more I get to know the kids and they get to know you, you really get to develop a bond with the kids,” Antoniewicz said.
Bus driver jog fair
School bus driver job fair is slated from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, at the Hortonville Area School District transportation facility, W6679 County Trunk JJ, Greenville