The Freeman School District is so short on bus drivers that the transportation director and assistant transportation director are both driving bus routes in an attempt to keep school buses on the road across the sprawling district south of Spokane and Spokane Valley.
The district normally has 18 drivers, but currently has only 14. “As of right now, we have no substitute drivers,” said Superintendent Randy Russell. “We had to reduce routes and combine routes. We’ve had coaches drive kids to away games. It’s starting to hit us pretty hard.”
The district is not alone. Russell said he’s aware of multiple other districts locally who have the same problem. “It’s just been tough to get people to sign up as bus drivers,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with this since the spring of 2020.”
The job does require a commercial driver’s license, but Russell said training new hires is not a problem. “We provide all the training,” he said. “It’s done right here on campus.”
The district is considering what options are available if the shortage continues or gets worse. In desperation, the district put out a plea on Facebook in late October asking people to sign on as bus drivers and substitute teachers.
“We can no longer sustain what we have been able to offer for the first seven weeks of the school year unless we get some additional support in our classrooms and transportation department,” the post read.
Russell also created a video asking for help that is posted on the district’s web page. “My hope is, when you get this message from us, that you will take action and answer our call for help,” he said in the video.
Russell said the plea did prompt two people to reach out to the district, but training them will take time. “We just need more,” he said.
The typical day for a bus driver begins at 6:30 a.m. when they arrive at the Freeman bus barn to do a pre-trip inspection on their bus. Most drivers are on the road by 7 a.m., picking up children and bringing them to school. In the afternoon, the process repeats. There are also two after school activity buses.
Drivers are also responsible for cleaning the inside of the bus daily and the outside weekly.
“It’s a perfect opportunity for someone looking for part-time work,” Russell said.
Drivers must hold a high school diploma or GED and pass a background check and a Department of Transportation physical exam. The pay varies between $19.14 and $22.87 per hour.
The district is considering its options going forward if things don’t change or get worse, Russell said. They’ve been struggling to keep the problem from impacting students greatly, but that may not continue to be possible, he said. “That’s part of what we’re brainstorming,” he said. “Inevitably, it’s going to impact kids.”
One option under consideration, which Russell doesn’t favor, is double runs. That’s when a bus driver loads his or her bus, takes those children home and then comes back to school to pick up a second group of children to deliver home. “We’re trying really hard to avoid that,” he said.
Those interested in applying to be a school bus driver can call the district at (509) 291-3695.
Correspondent Nina Culver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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