Weeks into the year, Wis. school districts say they’re still short on bus drivers

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 10:35 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - School districts in southcentral Wisconsin are, like others around the nation, still short of bus drivers and working with temporary fixes for the fall semester.

The Verona Area School District began the year with re-worked routes. Existing drivers tripled their runs to get elementary, middle then high school students to class. Chad Wiese, assistant superintendent of business services, said the district had never taken this measure before.

“We’re still technically short [on] bus drivers and having to route students in ways we never had before,” Wiese said. “It’s been a learning process, to say the least.”

He called this move “not only the best solution” but “the only solution,” adding this schedule will likely last the whole year.

“It’s not perfect,” he admitted. “We still have buses that are arriving late in the morning and then buses arriving late for pickup in the afternoon. It’s been getting better and better.”

Back in August, NBC15 reported that the DeForest Area School District was short ten drivers of 27 routes. “It’s pretty substantial,” Superintendent Eric Runez said, two weeks from the start of the school year.

Wednesday, Runez said the district ended up cutting the number of routes by ten. “Between families transporting their students and confirming who is actually going to participate in transportation, we have our routes covered,” he said.

He even said district staff are in the driver’s seat, which points to the latest challenge of afterschool trips. “Our athletic director, tomorrow, will be taking our tennis and cross country team to a competition and going and picking up a freshman football team of another district, so that we can actually hold our competition at a reasonable time instead of much later into the evening,” he said.

Tim LeMonds, a spokesperson with the Madison Metropolitan School District, declined an interview with NBC15 but wrote in an email that of 144 bus driver applicants, the majority did not meet minimum qualifications or did not show up for an interview. Since the start of school, MMSD said it has gained two drivers.

Other states are responding to the bus driver shortage. In Massachusetts, the National Guard has been deployed to take kids to school.

In Wisconsin, an Evers administration spokesperson cited a state Supreme Court decision barring the governor from declaring a public health emergency related to COVID-19, “which would likely be the authority under which the governor could otherwise call the Guard to active duty.”

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