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School bus driver shortage still being felt in mid-Michigan

School bus driver shortage
Posted at 5:20 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 17:20:50-04

LANSING, Mich. — Sandra Stewart is a mother of three. Two of her kids ride the bus to school in Eaton Rapids.

On the first day, buses were running behind. She says she spent an hour and a half not knowing where her son was. And the ongoing bus driver shortage has made getting to and from school a hassle.

Her kids are "exhausted because the routes have to be so long," she said. " These kids are on the bus so long in their day, because you know, they only have enough drivers for that many routes."

It's no secret school districts all over the country are facing a bus driver shortage. Last month we took a look at the problem here in mid-Michigan and Dean Transportation, which provides bus service to many Lansing-area districts, said they were working to solve the problem.

Stewart says some things have been ironed out but "they're still hurting." She's driving her children to school for the latter part of this week because their bus driver had a family emergency and the district only has 10 drivers.

Eaton Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Bill DeFrance says htey simply don't have enough substitutes.

"If we have something happened that we haven't planned for, it will throw us off track until we get the subs in place," he said.

And it's not just in Eaton Rapids. East Lansing and Lansing are also feeling the heat.

East Lansing's Superintendent Dori Leyko said in an email the district is typically short one or two drivers per day and are working with the Ingham Intermediate School District and Dean Transportation to design second runs "where drivers complete their assigned run and then loop back to schools to pick up additional students."

The students who have to wait for a second runs are supervised by school staff until a bus can return to pick them up, she said, but added that the district has not had to cancel or suspend any routes.

Lansing Public Schools superintendent Benjamin Shuldiner apologized to families for the inconvenience.

"It's really unfortunate. It's really hard for the families, and we understand that," Shuldiner said. "The school district has about 72 bus routes. And right now we're running 36. So we've had to adjust our bell schedules so that we can stack routes. So the 36 routes aren't just one route, it's one driver who does sometimes three routes on top."

Lansing schools would need 40 more drivers to be in good shape according to Dean Transportation.

"The challenge for us is not having any extra, we'll call them substitute drivers or any backup personnel," said President and CEO of Dean Transportation Kellie Dean.

He says they are working to fix the problem.

"Us having these additional substitute bus drivers and on call drivers that are available to assist us when we when life events happen and a driver has to be off. That'll go a long way to help the day to day consistency of our operation," Dean said.

Dean Transportation is hiring and says they have received 175 applications since the start of the school year. They are optimistic that there's help on the way.

"These new folks that are coming are in an expedited training opportunity right now. All their backgrounds are being checked and their driving records and, we're training them and on all of our policies and procedures and all the safety aspects that go into, you know, being a real bus driver. And we'll have them ready as soon as we can," Dean said.

In the meantime school districts are coming up with their own plans to help families.

Shuldiner says the Lansing School District has distributed over 1,000 gas cards and 250 CATA bus passes to help families who want other options for getting their kids to school.

​"We've tried to do everything we can. But we know it's hard. And we know that our parents are suffering and our kids are suffering. And it's really, really not okay," Shuldiner said.

Leyko says that East Lansing Schools have also met with CATA and are exploring whether or not any currently established CATA routes may be able to transport students temporarily. She says this could relieve some stress on their current system and routes.

Dean Transportation is having a hiring event on Oct. 10 from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. at its training center.

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Tianna Jenkins

12:23 PM, Jan 12, 2021
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