MADISON — Wisconsin school bus
companies are struggling to find enough drivers before the start
of the school year next month, leading some districts to combine
routes that make students' commute longer.
Most schools in Wisconsin
contract private with bus companies, which spent the summer
months trying to recruit drivers. But that has proven to be a
challenge this year.
"It's a huge concern,"
said Dan Kobussen of Kobussen Buses, a Fox Valley-based company
that has contracts with 23 districts across the state. "It
definitely is the worst I've seen it."
The state's unemployment rate is
also at an historic low of nearly 3%
But Steve Roekle, owner of the
Manitowoc-based Brandt Buses, said the nature of the job just
makes it a hard one to attain. He told Wisconsin Public Radio
that bus driving has high barriers to entry. In addition to
requiring, a commercial driver's license, drivers must undergo
rigorous drug testing and background checks, a physical exam and
a motor vehicle driver's history check. Those requirements limit
the pool of viable candidates.
He also attributed the shortage
in drivers to the state's aging population as baby boomers are
"We used to get shift
workers at factories who after working first shift would come in
and drive an afternoon route," Roekle said. "Or before
their second shift, they would drive the morning route. But that
has dried up as well, because they're working overtime."
Now, districts are resorting to
cutting bus service or combining routes due to a lack of
drivers. While other districts encourage staffers to drive, said
Cherie Hime, executive director of the Wisconsin School Bus
Districts and bus companies
"are looking at whether cooks in the school, or janitors or
teachers would be a good candidate for bus driver," Hime
Kobussen said that in addition to
boosting wages, his company pays attention to details of
drivers' experience to try to retain workers.
"When it gets this tight,
every little bit matters. Is the windshield clean? Is the bus
warm? That's the kind of stuff we're looking at. We're trying to
make it an enticing job," he said.