By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
In response to a shortage of bus drivers, administrators at Arkadelphia Public Schools are looking into ways of recruiting drivers and keeping the ones they have.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the local school district offered 23 daily bus routes. At the height of the pandemic in 2022, five bus drivers quit, leaving school officials scrambling to figure out how to make sure students got to and from school. The district would go on to shave five of its routes, or 22%, and combining or shortening others. And conditions haven’t improved, according to Jimmy King, director of support services for the school district.
Now, the district has 15 drivers for the 18 routes it currently has. Bus mechanics, the transportation director and even King himself have been driving buses to get students to and from school.
“There are days that we still have to combine routes and drivers have to run double routes,” King said. “With all the extracurricular activities that we have, it especially makes it difficult.” King spoke about this ongoing problem Tuesday before the Arkadelphia Board of Education. He has talked about driver shortages since it became an issue.
Students are either getting on buses earlier or arriving home later when drivers double up on routes, King said. “Sometimes students have to stay at school longer [in the afternoon] before we can pick them up if we have to go drop some kids off and come back to get some more,” he said.
According to press reports, the nationwide shortage has impacted as many as 86% of schools across the U.S. The shortages had gotten so dire in New England states that school districts were paying parents to drive their children to school. In order to alleviate driver shortages in Northwest Arkansas, the Bentonville School District is considering whether to consolidate bus stops to parks, churches and large parking lots.
What King hopes to soon propose to the school board is increasing bus driver wages and offering other incentives to both retain the current drivers and recruit new ones. The district currently pays bus drivers based on a combination of route lengths and years of service.
|Years worked||1 hour route||1.5 hour route||2+ hour route|
King wants to simplify this pay scale by paying a set wage for all drivers regardless of the length of their route. “Everybody would get the same base rate, but the longer you drive the more you would make,” he said. Other incentives King hopes to offer include sign-on and attendance bonuses, as well as absorbing the cost of pre-hire testing and medical examinations.
“We’re getting to the point where we’re going to have to start offering some incentives and raising the pay to make bus driving more attractive,” King said.
The decision would be in the hands of the school board.
Anyone interested in becoming a bus driver should contact the bus shop at 870-246-1128 and talk to Mitch Luna or Shane McBride.
Bus drivers must be at least 19 years of age, pass a written exam, and have a commercial driver’s license with a school bus and passenger endorsement.