W-F needs more bus drivers
School district considers options
By Angie Landsverk
The Weyauwega-Fremont School District is discussing how to cover its bus routes while it is short of drivers.
“We are currently three drivers down,” Don Lederhaus told the school board during its Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 14.
He is the district’s transportation supervisor and safety coordinator.
The district began the school year two drivers short, and has been down three drivers since the beginning of this month.
One driver gave notice prior to the holiday, wanting to be a sub, Lederhaus said.
The district has 10 bus routes, and all of them are currently running as usual.
Lederhaus, as well as the district’s mechanic and a substitute driver, are driving buses to keep all the routes covered.
While that is working now, Lederhaus is preparing for how to handle transportation needs when the spring sports season gets underway.
That is because buses sometimes leave before the end of the school day for away track meets and softball and baseball games.
As a result, unless the situation changes, the district is considering compressed routes in the afternoon on some school days this spring.
If implemented, this would affect students going home on the bus routes from W-F schools and St. Peter Lutheran School.
Of the district’s 10 bus routes, eight are for the W-F and St. Peter Lutheran School campuses, Lederhaus said.
The district also has one route specifically going to St. John Lutheran School and Christ Lutheran School, and another route for the district’s Early Childhood program.
Those two routes would remain the same in the afternoon.
All 10 bus routes would operate as usual in the morning.
He said if routes are compressed this spring, the eight routes from W-F and St. Peter Lutheran schools would turn into seven or six routes.
Longer bus routes would mean longer rides for some students.
For example, one route currently going 30 miles may have to go 50 miles, Lederhaus said.
He said some students may ride the bus 1 1/2 hours in the afternoon.
“As we develop this, we will get more specific on the routes,” Lederhaus said.
He said the district would communicate with all parents when there are days routes need to be compressed.
“It’d be nice if we found three people to be drivers,” Lederhaus said.
A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is required to be a school bus driver.
“The CDL process is not that difficult,” Lederhaus said.
It is done through the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles.
One person is going through the training right now, he said.
In addition to training, a physical and background check are required.
The district covers the costs.
Lederhaus said drivers for the W-F School District are guaranteed 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon.
He said the current drivers are part of a mixed group that includes some who want to drive as many routes as possible and others who are retired and want a bit of “fun money.”
A paraprofessional is among the district’s bus drivers, as is one of its coaches, Lederhaus said.
Most of the district’s students are picked up door to door, at the end of their driveways, he said.
In Fremont, a bus stops at Fremont Elementary, village hall and the old cheese factory to pick up students.
Board member Kurt Duxbury asked if bus stops were considered throughout the district.
The Lakeland School District is an example of a district with bus stops at specific times in specific areas, he said.
“We’re kind of staying away from that. We want to see if compressed routes work first,” Lederhaus said.
District Administrator Scott Bleck said finding school bus drivers is a challenge for many districts.
Board member Debi Bartel asked if the district ever thought about contracting out the service.
Drew Niehans, the district’s business manager, said he and Bleck looked into that idea a couple years ago.
Once a district sells its equity (the buses), it never goes back, Niehans.
That was his reservation about the idea.
The district is being creative as it seeks more drivers.
It moves a bus throughout the district, with a sign noting the need for drivers. The bus is currently parked in Fremont.
Lederhaus plans to go on WDUX in early February, when it is Driver Appreciation Week.
An open house at the bus garage is being considered this spring.
“One or two people can make all the difference,” Bleck said.