SUAMICO (NBC 26) — The serious nationwide shortage of school bus drivers continues to impact Northeast Wisconsin school districts.
Lamers Bus Lines, which provides services to the Howard-Suamico School District, informed Bay View Middle School and Bay Port High School they won't be able to provide buses for some already scheduled after-school away athletic events due to the ongoing bus driver shortage. It's caused the district to change event times, ask parents to help with transporting students and cancel some games.
“We cannot meet the needs of the athletics during route time, because we don’t have the staff to do those trips. We don’t have the staff to cover our routes," said Todd Gauthier, Lamers Bus Lines Howard-Suamico manager. "I’ve been doing this for 34 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. It is a major crisis. We need drivers.”
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There are 73 buses at the Lamers' Howard-Suamico terminal, but not enough drivers to meet the need for routes or charters.
Gauthier said there are currently 42 drivers and he needs about 15 more to meet demand.
“Right now it’s day-by-day. It is. I’m working on tomorrow, Friday. You know, I have three open p.m. routes and I don’t know how I’m going to fill them to get the children home," Gauthier said. "I feel horrible about it. I mean, I don’t sleep at night. It’s a bad situation. There’s just nothing more I can do. I have the equipment. I just can’t get the person to sit behind the wheel and drive the bus. I need people.”
Gauthier said the district's athletic department is coordinating with Lamers to reschedule sporting events around route times.
Mike Juech, Howard-Suamico School District assistant superintendent of operations, said athletic directors and principals are also evaluating schedules and working with competing schools to see what events can be adjusted to continue providing opportunities for students.
“If we have lights on a venue, or on a field, can we utilize those things? Then that removes some of the challenges as well. So that really gets to the partnership with our athletic directors and our other schools to be creative on that," Juech said. "And there’s obviously some things like cross-country where we don’t have that luxury to have a lighted course. So we need to make sure that that’s then a priority of how do we figure out how to meet that challenge. That’s something that continues in the works and how can we make some of those adjustments.”
The following Bay View athletic events on Sept. 9 are changed:
- Cross Country at De Pere: The district is asking parents to transport students to the meet because the time couldn't be changed.
- Football at Pulaski: Start time changed to 5 p.m. with the bus leaving at 4:30 p.m.
- Soccer: All games are canceled this week
- Volleyball: Scrimmage at Bay View will go on as originally scheduled
Juech said the district appreciates the additional work and help from parents, athletic directors, principals, other schools, and Lamers to make things work during the bus driver shortage.
“We know the benefits of different activities for kids and athletics for kids," Juech said. "You make a lot of memories and enjoy that time. It’s really a good social-emotional aspect for them too and (we're) wanting to do what we can to continue to support."
Juech said they will continue working with all parties to adjust future athletic events as needed.
School bus transportation is used by at least 75% of K-12 students in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin School Bus Association. They say finding qualified people to drive school buses was a problem before the pandemic and has only gotten worse.
They say this shortage of drivers makes it difficult to get 750,000 students to school and other activities safely. WSBA members project this critical level shortage to continue past the 2021-2022 school year.
Gauthier said the starting wage for a school bus driver with Lamers is $20 per hour. He said drivers can also get up to $1,800 bonuses. Candidates need to be 21 years old or older and have at least four years of driving experience. A CDL is required.