Riding the bus is a necessity for a lot of students. They rely on their bus driver to take them to and from school safely and on time, every day. Since Wentzville has been short on bus drivers, this has caused issues for drivers, students and the transportation department.
School bus driver shortages are nothing new to our district. In fact, we are not the only school district that is affected. According to an article published by STLtoday.com, other St. Louis school districts such as Rockwood and Edwardsville are just two of many districts suffering from bus driver shortages.
David Wilson is the director of transportation for Wentzville School District. He has been the director for six years and has 44 years of experience in transportation.
“School districts nationwide are experiencing the same problem as Wentzville,” Wilson said. “Most industries employing drivers are experiencing a shortage. Mass media has referred to it as a national crisis. There’s been a shortage for many years. It’s exaggerated now due to the low unemployment rate.”
There are multiple factors as to why the WSD is short on bus drivers. Larry Southerland, or as his riders know him, “Duke” has been a bus driver in the Wentzville School District for 18 years, with over 21 years of total experience. He is loved by riders for his comical personality.
“People are looking to work 40 hours a week,” Southerland said. “In Wentzville as a bus driver you work 25 hours a week. Picking up field trip routes can give you more hours, but getting 40 hours a week is pretty hard.”
Problems caused by this shortage are most apparent in the transportation department.
“Unfortunately, some routes are not running according to plan or expectation,” explained Wilson. “Existing drivers are having to take on additional routes and we are not able to offer transportation for after school activities. Additionally, we are having routers, mechanics, and supervisors drive. This takes away from the overall efficiency of our department.”
Drivers and the transportation department are not the only ones being affected. Students who ride the bus are feeling the effects of the shortage as well. The biggest example of this in the WSD would be merging high school and middle school routes.
Aidan Ray, a junior here at Liberty, has been a bus rider since kindergarten.
“I don’t like riding with middle school. They’re not as mature as high schoolers, and they cause problems on the bus,” Ray said. “It takes me longer to get home because so many middle schoolers ride my bus.”
Additionally, middle schoolers and their parents are not on board with merging routes. Multiple middle schoolers (who prefer to remain anonymous) have mentioned that parents are hesitant to put their seventh and eighth-grade students on the bus with older high school students.
Now the question has to be asked, how are we going to fix this? David Wilson has an answer.
“The district has increased wages and is advertising through many sources trying to attract drivers. The district also offers an incentive to current employees for recommending a new driver that gets hired.”
Even with this current crisis, it’s clear to see that the transportation department and bus drivers are working hard to make sure that this shortage doesn’t get more out of hand.
This story was originally published on Liberty Ledger on October 17, 2019.