ST PAUL, Minn. — Nationwide bus driver shortages caused chaos last school year, with many districts reporting ongoing staffing issues.
Bus companies told KARE 11 hiring and retaining bus drivers posed challenges during the pandemic, and many of those problems are still being felt today.
To address the issue, Saint Paul Public Schools Chief of Administration & Operations Jackie Turner says the district allocated funds to help with retention and hiring efforts this year.
"SPPS did receive American Rescue Plan funds, as did most schools in the country, and we chose to use a portion to support our contract bus drivers," said Turner.
According to SPPS, the district received about $207 million to be used over the next three years — the last of the federal funding allotments, totaling $334 million.
Turner says a portion of the funds used for COVID-19 response efforts and for long term student outcomes will go toward efforts to retain and hire more bus drivers.
Last school year, the district was forced to cancel some routes due to the shortage.
"We believe that we will be able to go from 175 routes, which is what we had last year, to 209 routes, and we never know for sure," said Turner. "We plan to use additional routes to help reduce some of our alternative types of services we provided, we contracted with companies that also provided vans."
When asked if hiring incentives are being offered, Turner responded, "We do see our contract companies went for a pretty significant increase. Pre-pandemic, the average bus driver made between somewhere between $18-20 an hour, and today, most of our contractors are paying anywhere from $21-25 dollars."
Turner says inflation is also playing a part in rising bus contract costs.
"Our projected increase from our cost of transportation in previous years, to what we anticipate this year, and beyond, and we did project a $4.2 million cost based on increase in inflation in gas prices," she said.
While staff gears up for the start of the school year next month, both the school district and bus companies are hoping to bring more drivers on board.
"Most of our contractors allow for (drivers) to bring children on board to avoid childcare costs, and that has been an incentive for people and a great opportunity for retirees," said Turner.
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