Monroe County schools facing bus driver shortage
Schools are back in session across central Indiana, but some students may arrive late to class because of a shortage of bus drivers.
The State Department of Education tells Eyewitness News "everybody is desperate for drivers." In fact, only one district statewide is not looking for school bus drivers right now.
But the worst of it appears to be in Monroe County, where they started classes Wednesday more than 20 drivers short.
Larry Sparks loves his job behind the wheel.
"I'm a father. I'm a grandfather, but I've added 50 kids to my family everyday," Sparks said.
But the need for people like Larry, to carry children safely to and from school, has reached a critical point in the Monroe County Community School Corporation. The district calls its shortage of school bus drivers a crisis.
"This is the first time that we've actually started school with this few of drivers. It is definitely a crisis," said MCCSC Transportation Director, Gib Niswander.
The potential consequence for kids? Not enough drivers could cause a late start at school.
"They could be standing at the street corner at the driveway, waiting for the bus driver to arrive," Niswander said. "We try to run our routes as close to on time as possible, but whenever we simply don't have drivers to fill seats, then we have to double up routes, meaning kids could be waiting longer for pick-up."
The district was 18 drivers short on the first day of school - more than 20 if you count the subs they need, as well.
The reason for the shortage?
Niswander says they had an unusually large number of bus drivers retire after last school year. Many also left to take full-time jobs. He says it can be a tough sell getting people to take part-time work.
Monroe County is using supervisors and on-call drivers to fill the void for now. They're also they're advertising and recruiting aggressively. The job in Monroe County pays $12.50 an hour, with paid training. Drivers get health benefits too.
"We're doing everything we can to publicize out there that we need the positions," Sparks said. "Whether we're out at the mall, the sports complexes, everybody's talking, 'Hey why don't you try and come and do this, you know?'"
Also in their recruiting, they're explaining to candidates that the pay and benefits don't reflect the most important aspect of this job - that's carrying precious cargo and helping children succeed.
"I guarantee you it will fill your heart. You will fall in love with this job," Sparks said.
Larry Sparks certainly has, and for the children's sake, he hopes more people do soon.
This crisis will continue for awhile, even if the district can hire new drivers. That's because it takes 40 hours of training, or about six weeks, before a new driver can get behind the wheel and run a route.