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Posted by Abbey Lang on 11/10/2022
Ongoing transportation shortages are being experienced across the country, and unfortunately, Dassel-Cokato Schools is no stranger to the problem. DC families have received several communications since summer detailing the struggles, potential for disruptions, and pleas for help.
For years our bus and van drivers have primarily been comprised of retirees, farmers, and parents with flexible schedules. The question first asked by most is, "where have all the workers gone?" While there isn't a single answer, in the past few years, millions of Americans have sought early retirement, over 4 million according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While some retirees have recently returned to the workforce, the overall labor pool is still smaller than the demand.
At Dassel-Cokato Schools, bus and van drivers are primarily responsible for the morning and afternoon routes transporting students to and from school. However, a significant number of drivers are needed on a daily basis for after school activities, competitions, field trips, and special events.
In similar circumstances, pleas for competition officials have been heard at sporting events over the past year. Recently, word of canceled games and competitions due to a lack of officials has been circulating. Just as officials, ticket takers, concession stand workers, and announcers are needed for competitions to occur, so are bus drivers. The inability to transport teams to and from games, often occurring in neighboring towns but sometimes occurring up to several hours away, puts our school district in a difficult position.
DC Schools Transporation Coordinator, Nicole Carlen, recounts, "We've been able to recruit a small number of drivers over the past few months, but unfortunately, it hasn't been enough to keep up. The few substitute drivers available have been working on a daily basis. We are currently in a situation where we aren’t staffed appropriately.”
This school year has already experienced interruptions with activity buses and the ability to transport students for school activities. "For several years, we've been fortunate enough to have drivers who have consistently offered to drive for these events. However, due to current staffing levels, those drivers are currently fulfilling school day bus routes, leaving a significant gap that's very difficult to fill." Nicole described.
We (Dassel-Cokato Schools) need help. We're being as creative as we can to try and recruit drivers. Social media, online information, billboards, radio, word of mouth, and fliers are all ways we're trying to capture people's attention. We're even starting a new program where people can call and schedule a time to test drive a bus. So often, people are intimidated when they think about their ability to drive a school bus. Allowing them to test drive one might give them the confidence to move forward.
In other instances, parents, grandparents, and coaches are being asked to consider becoming licensed. "Get paid to go to events you're planning to attend" is our mantra. In summary, Nicole observed, " Often when we have these conversations with parents, it's never occurred to them that driving the bus to an event they're already planning to attend is even an option. I'll train anyone willing to get their CDL license. Call me. We'll grab a bus and practice until you're confident. We're here to support each other and our students. If you're willing to help, we'll do whatever we can to help you become licensed."
If you or someone you know might be interested in becoming a bus driver, please contact the Transportation Department at 320-286-4105.