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Waupaca schools face bus driver shortage

Waupaca is struggling with a shortage of school bus drivers. School districts across the country are in need of more bus drivers. File Photo

Go Riteway offers bonuses

By Robert Cloud

Students are experiencing first hand how a shortage of school bus drivers impacts athletic events and field trips.

“It isn’t a Waupaca issue. It isn’t a Go Riteway issue,” District Administrator Ron Saari told the Waupaca School Board at its Sept. 12 meeting. “This bus driver shortage is happening across the state and the country.”

Saari said bus routes to and from school have to take priority over event trips.

This means that any co-curricular trips have to work around the regular bus routes.

As a result, some teams have been required to leave as early as 11 a.m. in order for students to participate in a 5 p.m. event.

“From an educational standpoint, we are frustrated to have students missing increasing amounts of instruction time and having to wait around at another school because they arrived so early,” Saari said.

The administration has examined a number of options, but each one creates new problems for the district.

Late starts, long waits

Saari said Rob Scherrer, the district’s activities director, has suggested rescheduling some earlier events to a later time, for example moving a 5 p.m. event to 6:30 p.m.

However, late starts means that some students, including those in middle school, would not return home until as late as 11 p.m.

The other schools must also agree to rescheduling the events, which may not be possible.

“We are also looking to make date changes for some events and reschedule them when drivers are available,” Saari noted in a memo to the school board.

The district’s biggest concern, Saari said, is that the bus driver shortage impacts teaching and learning.

“No matter what we do, there’s a negative consequence as we try to keep all these activities in place,” Saari said.

Another option is for parents to carpool together and drive students to events.

Saari said the district’s insurance provider has approved this option, but while parents may be willing to drive to a nearby school, such as Manawa, Saari said they are less willing to drive longer distances, such as Oconto Falls.

Subcontracting with another transportation service other than Go Riteway is also option, but other services have the same problem with finding bus drivers.

The worst-case scenario is to cancel an event, which the high school has already been required to do.

Raises for bus drivers

Saari noted a number of changes made by Go Riteway in order to recruit more drivers: wage increases, a payroll structure change that provides much higher pay for doing trips, incentives, and additional recruiting efforts.

This year, the Waupaca School District is offering a $1,000 bonus as an incentive for staff and coaches to obtain a commercial driver’s license drive buses for after school events for the activities they coach or advise.

This CDL bonus will be issued after the first event trip driving with their CDL.

In addition, Go Riteway will commit to an additional $250 training bonus that will be paid 30 days after they are driving with a CDL.

Finally, Go Riteway will provide an additional $250 sign-on bonus issued 90 days after driving with a CDL.

Go Riteway pays $14.50 an hour during the behind the wheel and classroom training. This occurs after the applicant has studied the material and passed the permit exams.

After the person is driving with their CDL, the wage is $18.50 an hour, in addition to the coaching salary.

Saari said a coach could earn $100 for driving a five-hour round trip.

“If I was a young coach, I’d probably be all over that,” Saari said.

School board member Steve Klismet, who runs a truck stop, said CDL training could cost nearly $5,000 and take up to eight weeks to complete.

Saari said he did not think a CDL for a school bus driver would not cost as much or require as much time as it would for a truck driver.

During the football game on Sept. 8, the district recognized its drivers, played an advertisement on the big screen, and encourage people to become drivers.

Scherrer said two community members and two coaches expressed interest in driving school buses following the Friday night event. He is considering a CDL.

Board member Bob Adams said he plans to obtain a CDL in order to help the district.

“Let’s dangle the carrot and just see how many coaches will go that route,” board member Ron Brooks said. “This is nothing new. Leroy Haberkorn was the athletic director, the track coach and he drove the bus and chain smoked Camels all the way there.”

“This is not going to solve the problem in the very near future, but hopefully by the winter or spring sports we can get this corrected a little bit,” Scherrer said.

The school board took no action on the issue, but will continue to look for ways to address it.

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