The Box Elder School District is always looking for bus drivers, and the need is even greater now because of COVID-19.
In a social media post last week, the school district wrote that “a number of circumstances,” including the pandemic, has caused a shortage of drivers that is making it difficult to get high-school students to and from sporting events and other extracurricular activities.
“Student routes to/from school receive first priority. Currently we are short drivers to fill all the routes necessary to accomplish this, obliging the office staff to fill in,” the post explained. “This makes it difficult for regular drivers to take activity trips for student activities as there are no subs available to cover their routes.”
District Transportation Supervisor Keevin Nelson said the situation is complicated by the fact that sports teams at Bear River and Box Elder high schools compete in different regions.
“Our biggest issue is the time of day kids have to leave,” Nelson said. “If Box Elder has to go to Farmington or Bountiful, they might have to leave at 2:45. On the other hand, the Bear River bus can go to Cache Valley at 3:30 or 4:00 and get there in time.”
He said no students have had to miss activities yet because of the driver shortage, but it has put a strain on mechanics and office staff, who become the substitute drivers when no one else is available. All district transportation employees have the required commercial licenses to drive the buses, he said.
The bottom line is that the district needs more substitute drivers with flexible schedules who can fill in for regular drivers on short notice. Regular drivers work part time, so most have other jobs or obligations that come up.
The district wants new drivers who can be trained quickly to cover regular routes to and from school, which would free up more experienced drivers to handle the sports and activity routes, Nelson said.
Many drivers are in their 60s and recently retired, he said, and that age group often finds bus driving to be a way to earn some money without too much of a time commitment. A typical substitute driver works one to 1.5 hours once or twice a week.
“We like those types of drivers,” he said. “They can fill in or help however they can.”
Some of that help could also include answering phones at the district transportation office during peak times at the beginning and end of the school day.
All drivers are required to obtain a commercial driver license, for which the district provides periodic training. The district was originally planning to start a CDL certification course on Oct. 29, but decided to move up the date to this Friday, Oct. 9 because of the immediate need for more personnel.
Training consists of a combination of online training modules and behind-the-wheel experience with an instructor, beginning with a four-hour class to go over the basics of safety and bus operation.
Pay starts at $18.83 per hour for new drivers, who receive a $100 bonus after 90 days of driving and a $250 bonus after 180 days.
Friday’s training course begins at 8 a.m. at the district transportation facilities located at 1675 N. 2000 West, near the Brigham City Airport. For more information or to sign up, call the transportation office at (435) 734-4839.
Nelson said that even without the extra strain put on by the pandemic, the driver shortage is likely to persist without an influx of new drivers, especially with rapid growth in areas like Collinston, Deweyville, Perry and Willard.
“Typically we have drivers retire at Christmas, because of the break, and come May because of the end of the school year,” he said. “Are we gonna have subs available to replace those that retire? It’s a concern every year.”