ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota school administrators and busing companies are scrambling to get students to class on time amid a shortage of school bus drivers.
Tom Burr is responsible for moving 32,000 students on 350 bus routes for the St. Paul school district. He told Minnesota Public Radio News that he faces challenges every weekday to find enough drivers to transport the district's students, and often he isn't notified until last minute.
"We're struggling trying to get everybody to where they want to go on time," he said.
Burr said he's currently 15 to 20 percent short on bus drivers.
"It's kind of a domino effect," Burr said. "We're backfilling people, drivers, with typically full-time staff — mechanics, dispatchers, trainers."
More students are starting to show up late as companies use fill-ins unfamiliar with the bus routes.
"Parents really are more comfortable if they see the same driver every day and in these particular circumstances we have trouble with providing that service," said Burr.
Shelly Jonas of the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association said school districts across the state are facing bus driver shortages as the strong economy and low unemployment make it difficult to find workers to fill the roles. The association represents 130 private school bus companies that run about 6,000 school busses around Minnesota.
"A lot of our members have said their old ways of getting drivers — putting out signs and newspapers ads, just don't attract the new hires anymore," Jonas said.
Companies have been more aggressively searching for potential drivers, such as early retirees, parents, self-employed residents or people with flexible jobs, she said.
Dan Stroeing, who oversees maintenance of the St. Paul district's bus fleet, has been offering a lending hand behind the school bus wheel, too.
"I like getting out and see what's going on in the city," he said.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org