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Huron ups pay for school bus drivers to address shortage

Posted: Wednesday, Aug 20th, 2014

HURON — The Huron School Board met during an emergency meeting Monday to put together a plan to address the districts critical shortage of bus drivers.

The district currently has two of its route’s unfilled and just one substitute driver on its payroll.

The board earlier this summer approved an increase from $15 to $18 in hopes that would attract more applicants.

According to the district’s business manager, Kelley Christopherson; and transportation superintendent, Rex Sawvell, the anticipated flow of applicants never happened, with just two prospects picking up information and neither turning it back in.

So the board passed a resolution with a couple of incentives in hopes of attracting new recruits.

The first was to increase the bus driver salary schedule to $28 per route per day.

They also increased the hourly pay for in-town drivers, activity drivers, and substitute drivers to $25 per hour.

Finally, they authorized a $1,000 signing bonus for route drivers, with $500 being paid when they start and $500 being paid at the end of the school year if they work the entire year.

Similarly, they authorized a $500 signing bonus for substitute drivers, with $250 being paid when they start and $250 being paid at the end of the school year if they work the entire year.

The cost would be hefty as the route pay would add up to $92,000 but, as more than one board member commented, it is a driver’s market.

The board hopes the deal addresses the short-term goal of filling their pressing need for drivers and the long-term goal of retaining and developing a group of veteran drivers to stabilize the staff from year-to-year, so that not so many vacancies need filling.
The board will have its regularly scheduled second meeting on Monday, Aug. 25, and if there isn’t sufficient movement on this problem, the district might have to consider going with the number that they have and address the problem with teachers or a reduction in services.

A few ideas bounced around during the meeting including approaching People’s Transit for additional drivers during the times that they are needed.

However, using People’s Transit itself is not possible since “yellow school buses” must be used.

They also considered contracting out to a professional service to address the routes that need drivers; however, Superintendent Terry Nebelsick said that he has heard that another district was looking into that earlier this summer and couldn’t find a partner.

Nebelsick, who drove a school bus when he first started teaching in a rural district, said that situation is not ideal since it takes away from instruction and development time for teachers if they must hop on a bus right after school.

When he did it the route he drove was split. He drove in the morning since he coached in the afternoon and the afternoon driver was a teacher who farmed and needed his mornings free.

Other more drastic measures would be exploring issues where some students within a certain radius of a school would not be eligible for bussing and routes would be redrawn with fewer routes, thus making the numbers work with the current number of drivers.

Huron is not the only district facing this issue as Sioux Falls is facing a similar dilemma.

They built a middle school recently meaning more drivers are needed, but response has been low.

Like Huron, Sioux Falls has used transportation employees and mechanics to fill short-term shortages.

The board met in the Middle School Conference Room Monday afternoon to discuss the matter.

The meeting was held after a lunch at the Middle School that featured the district’s new teachers and the board was invited to attend.

For the complete article see the 08-19-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 08-19-2014 paper.

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