DECATUR — Decatur Public Schools' bus service, Alltown, is still experiencing a significant shortage of drivers, with 13 routes out of service this week.
Decatur schools consolidated bus routes, with 74 altogether, and 64 drivers, of which three work half time. Buildings have staggered start times to cover more routes with fewer drivers.
“DPS continues to work with Alltown to find solutions to the driver shortage,” said Denise Swarthout, district spokeswoman. “We are monitoring the number of available drivers and how new vaccination or weekly testing requirements may further impact bus driver availability.”
Those students who can't get to school due to no bus are allowed to do their lessons online through SeeSaw and Google Classroom, depending on their grade level.
The bus company informed district officials of a driver shortage just days before the start of the school year on Aug. 16, citing a significant number of drivers were sick due to COVID-19. But the day before classes started, the bus company announced it had secured enough drivers to cover most routes. Drivers were brought in from other districts where classes had not yet begun for the year, but those drivers had to return to their own districts when schools opened.
Alltown owner Greg Polan said the company is recruiting new drivers and training new hires, but it's been difficult to find new drivers.
"We appreciate the drivers who did come in and who came back (after COVID-19 shutdowns)," he said. "They're working hard to get kids to school."
The company is doing the best they can, Polan said, in the face of a shortage of workers that extends not only to bus companies throughout the nation, but to vendors of all types. There just aren't enough people applying for open positions.
According to National Public Radio, about half of the nation's school districts describe their transportation situation as “severe” or “desperate.” Reasons range from drivers quitting due to vaccine mandates or having found other employment while furloughed during school shutdowns. Hiring and training new drivers, who must have specific licensing to drive a school bus, takes time and open Department of Motor Vehicle offices, which are closed or operating at limited capacity in many places. And because children under 12 can't yet be vaccinated, safety concerns have kept some potential drivers from the jobs.
Starting pay at Alltown is $15 per hour.
Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter