Short on bus drivers, DeForest schools look for alternatives

Kobussen Buses, a partner of the DeForest Area School District, is hiring amid a bus driver...
Kobussen Buses, a partner of the DeForest Area School District, is hiring amid a bus driver shortage.(WMTV/Michelle Baik)
Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 9:26 PM CDT
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DEFOREST, Wis. (WMTV) - While parents and students may be in full gear for back-to-school, a nationwide bus driver shortage is forcing DeForest schools to create back-up plans.

The DeForest Area School District is figuring out how to find drivers for all 27 bus routes. Two weeks from starting a brand new year, the district is ten drivers short.

“We’ve had a shortage for years. However, since COVID, it has become absolutely critical,” Simon Gillham, a regional manager for Kobussen Buses, said. Kobussen operates the wheel for the DeForest district, according to Gillham, as well as about twenty others statewide.

Noting a shortage that’s “most critical” in southern Wisconsin, Gillham said, “It’s getting to the point where we may have to make some very drastic changes, such as bell time changes, if this persists.”

Superintendent Eric Runez said changing schools’ start and end times is an option on the table. “I will be honest, that’s the one that I really would like to avoid,” he said. “We recognize that it’s not an easy decision to make because it has a ripple effect on families. You may have had childcare already planned for, your rides, whatever it might be.”

At this point, Runez said that option isn’t likely. He pointed to early results of a survey that asked parents if their kids needed bus rides to school given the driver shortage.

“The solution is confirming who actually needs ridership and confirming if you’re going to utilize or not and also suggesting if there’s alternatives, maybe consider that,” he said.

According to Runez, the district has already worked with a traffic consultant, anticipating more car pick-ups. “Instead of it being a 10-minute window, we’re considering making it a 20-minute window, and that will help with some of the congestion as well,” he said.

For now, Kobussen is making do with all hands on deck.

“Our office staff, our mechanics, our managers, including me,” Gillham said. “If we use all those people, if we’re very fortunate and we’re very creative, we might be able to scrape up just enough people.”

Gillham said the company is struggling to find drivers despite incentives like a signing bonus and a 15 percent higher wage. Those interested can apply here.

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