By Chad Koenen
Every morning at the school bus stop, parents hand their children off to a bus driver. Many times these bus drivers are family friends, family members or other members of the community they know well. The bus driver is responsible for not only being one of the first people a student sees outside of their family each day, but also provide a safe mode of transportation to and from school. ¶ They are responsible for driving in the snow and rain, the wind and sun, as well as stay on track even though a 12-point buck is roaming the field next to a bus. In many cases the bus drivers locally get to know each student on a first name basis, especially since they spend five days a week driving to and from school.
Unfortunately, a lack of bus drivers in the Henning School District has created a transportation crunch for local students and staff. Henning School isn’t alone in having a shortage of bus drivers as a lack of bus drivers is causing a transportation crunch at many school districts across the state.
“Everywhere you go people are short of bus drivers. It’s not just school district it’s bus companies too,” said Henning School Superintendent Melissa Sparks.
Earlier this year Henning School District cut the amount of daily bus routes from seven bus routes to just six due to a lack of bus drivers in the school district. Currently, building and grounds supervisor Brendan Hart is driving bus each day as a fill-in, but Sparks said it would be nice to have another person step up to drive bus to allow Hart the opportunity to do his full-time job at the school.
In addition to the daily bus routes, the Henning School District has found a challenge in getting students to and from activities each day.
“We are really scrambling to find enough drivers to get students to activities,” said Sparks. “Even if we could get 4-6 people who just want to fill in it would just give us some more flexibility and ensure that we can run all of our routes to activities and get them where they need to be.”
Last spring the Henning, Battle Lake and Underwood School Districts announced they would no longer transport athletes back to their home school district after home Otter Tail Central spring events. That meant Henning students who played a game in Underwood or Battle Lake had to be brought home by a family member or friend.
Sparks said the school district is willing to train and help residents obtain their bus license if they are interested in driving bus for the school district. She said Hart recently took his bus test and would be able to provide a fresh insight over what is needed to pass the written and driving tests.
With a lack of substitute bus drivers at its disposal, Sparks said the school district has developed an emergency plan it will utilize to pick students up from school if it is short a bus driver. That includes picking up students on a bus on an adjacent route, as well as utilizing other school vehicles like vans when needed.
“We have been very blessed to have a couple of people who can help us out but in a very limited capacity,” said Sparks. “We are doing everything possible to provide the services we need. We have an emergency plan in place if we need to use it.”
The challenge facing school districts across the state is that obtaining a bus license requires taking both a written and driving test, as well as requires having a job that allows great enough flexibility to be gone in the morning and afternoon to drive a route. Sparks is hopeful that people in the community will step up and offer to drive a bus on a route in the morning, afternoon or both.
Bus drivers are paid for their time on the road and is a popular job for retirees or people with a flexible schedule.
“You have to have a somewhere of a flexible job to do it. It used to be a lot of people who farmed or retirees help you out, but like it or not it ties them down twice a day,” said Sparks. “As life has changed people may not want to be tied down as much.”
Anyone who may be interested in learning more about becoming a route or activities bus driver should contact Sparks or Hart at the Henning School at 583-2927.