Suburban school districts scramble to hire bus drivers before students return to classrooms

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Monday, August 1, 2022
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The Barrington School District is one of many districts scrambling to fill bus driver jobs before it's time for students to return to the classroom.

PALATINE, Ill. (WLS) -- The Barrington School District is one of many districts scrambling to fill bus driver jobs before it's time for students to return to the classroom.

"We're offering a hiring bonus, the drivers get a hiring bonus if they bring someone in, having special events," said JD Lasalla with Barrington Transportation Company.

The Barrington district covers a huge geographic area more than 70 square miles, with some students traveling more than 15 miles to get to school. So the fewer drivers they have, the longer the ride for many students.

In Huntley, they're committed to offering very student in the district bus transportation no matter where they live.

"We can use 12 to 17 additional drivers to consider ourselves fully staffed," said Dr. Scott Rowe of Huntley District 158.

The pandemic caused most school districts to go to remote learning, which eliminated the need for school bus drivers. Once school returned to in-person learning many drivers never came back, leaving districts scrambling.

The Huntley school district is among many offering special incentives to try to attract more drivers. They are down about 10% of the number of drivers they'd like.

"We've increased our rates for drivers. We have a competitive and nice benefits package, flexible hours and they're part of our Huntley 158 family. We care deeply about them," Rowe said.

District 211 in the northwest suburbs owns its own bus fleet and that means part-time drivers still get the same insurance and other benefits as teachers and other district employees. But they are still struggling to attract drivers. They've even trained other employees that can pitch in and drive.

"There were people stepping up to make our routes happen when they had to happen to get students to school." Said Erin Holmes, District 211 spokesperson.

District 211 is looking at hosting a Drive a Bus Day, hoping to get people behind the wheel of one of these buses, find out they like it and apply for a job.