By CAROLINE HECKER
GRANITE CITY, Illinois (KMOV) — The Granite City School District is pleading for more bus drivers to join its fleet after losing more than 40 drivers over the course of the last two years.
The district said COVID-19 amplified the problem, especially with its older drivers.
“We found out we had an older population of bus drivers and I don’t know if COVID-19 was something they didn’t want to deal with,” Granite City School District Superintendent Stephanie Cann said. “Historically this district is harder to staff than others when it comes to bus drivers, at least that’s what Illinois Central School Bus tells us.”
The district contracts with Illinois Central School Bus company, and they employ the drivers. The district has started its own recruiting efforts, supplementing the work of the bus company to acquire new drivers.
“We do have 30 drivers waiting in the wings, but historically about 50 percent of them make it through the process,” Cann said. “So you’re counting on maybe 15 or 16 drivers.”
Right now, about 3,000 students across the district do not have access to a bus to get them to and from school. While some families are able to adapt, others are forced to miss school. The district said attendance rates dropped, especially among fifth and sixth graders.
“I worked for the county for 34 years. I got bored staying at home, so I got off the couch, quit watching Netflix and started driving a bus,” Tammy Lane said, who has been a driver in the district for three years. “Don’t be intimidated by it, it’s fun.”
The district said other local employment opportunities, like a new Amazon fulfillment center, tend to draw from the same candidate pool. Plus, all drivers must obtain a commercial drivers license to drive a school bus.
Illinois Central will pay for prospective drivers to train for their CDL and the school district is currently offering a $3,000 sign-on bonus.
“It was very much out of my comfort zone, but once I start driving, I love it,” Lane said. “I’d rather drive this than my car.”
Within the last few days, the district returned five bus routes to service, providing some junior high and high school students with dependable transportation. However, the district said it’s capable of running 15 routes.
“This is not something that is ideal at all in our district. We are unique in this area and it’s something we have to figure out as soon as possible,” Cann said.
The district does provide full bus service to elementary school students, as it wanted to prioritize younger students with fewer options of getting to school. It has also partnered with Madison County Transit to allow students to ride the bus for free through the end of October.
“We’re begging people, please help us,” Cann said. “This isn’t a long-term solution.”
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