Shortage of school bus drivers felt by Central Illinois school districts

Local News

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – A shortage of bus drivers, it’s a trend being seen nationally and local school districts are feeling the impact as well.

Josh Collins, Director of Transportation at Peoria Public Schools, says bringing in drivers has been an issue for the transportation industry for several years, but now it appears to be heightened.

“I think its gotten a lot worst due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Collins said.

At PPS, Collins says the issue isn’t where his staffing is now, but where it may be later.

“We depend a lot on retirees and things like that. So, those people are constantly coming in but they’re also leaving for whatever reason,” Collins said.

But he says the number of new applicants to fill any openings is on the decline, and it’s had an impact on school schedules this year.

“We transitioned from a two bell schedule to a three bell schedule in order to give us the ability to do the same amount of transportation with fewer drivers,” he said.

Mark Jontry, Regional Superintendent for Regional Office of Education #17, says he’s also experiencing a lack of substitute drivers.

He says it put districts in a pinch, especially when drivers were out due to COVID-19.

“Some of them got to the point where they were really concerned about their ability to continue to transport students, all their students on a daily basis,” Jontry said.

To fill driver openings, Collins says there’s no one answer but recruitment will play a big part, as well as pay.

“We’re working closely with the union to try to increase the driver’s wages, that’ll be one piece,” Colins said.

Jontry says if a decline in bus drivers continues, some schools may have to get creative.

“Transportation of students is yet another area where we’re going to look to be innovative, either out of necessity or opportunity,” he said.

Collins also explains that due to high demand, hiring new drivers is extremely competitive.

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