School bus driver shortage impacting 4-states school districts

JOPLIN, Mo. – Joplin Schools Transportation Director Mike Bevis gets back behind the wheel. Normally he would be in the office, making sure bus routes are running smoothly, but he’s been driving routes out of necessity.

“We started out this year about 15 drivers short,” says Bevis.

So if you’ve noticed buses running late, it’s not in your imagination.

“It always happens the first week of school anyway, even on a good year,” says Bevis. “You know, we are short on drivers, and with everybody coming off the virtual school from last year, now we’re finding we’re missing a lot of stops that we used to have. So we’re trying to reroute things. And it makes it chaotic. It makes us late… nobody likes to be late, nobody likes to be on the bus in the heat. But, that’s what we deal with. We’re just asking folks to be patient and we’ll get them there. Things are already smoothing out more, and we’re getting back to where we should be.”

While they may be getting things smoothed out, it’s not because they have as many drivers as they normally need. Right now, Joplin School District has 49 drivers when, on a good year, they have 62. They also only have three substitutes, when they like to have 12. To compensate, Bevis explains they’ve combined 12 routes to free up six of their drivers, and have hired five drivers. They still need to hire several more substitutes.

“We have a driver on (every) route, but as soon as one driver drops out for a trip or sickness, we can’t really combine the combinations like we did because there’s no wiggle room,” says Bevis.

School bus shortages aren’t a new thing — two years ago Joplin was facing a driver shortage as well. But this year, the shortage is nationwide and doesn’t appear to be getting any better. School ride-sharing company HopSkipDrive found that 80 percent of school districts that responded to a March survey are having trouble finding school bus drivers.

“I’ve had I think six applicants… in six months,” says Bevis.

In Carthage, Transportation Director Jeff Fries says, right now, what they need the most is substitute drivers.

“You throw COVID in there, and then you’re looking at more of a long-term absence because they could be quarantined for ten days or more, and that’s if they’re not sick. And then you’re looking to fill that position because the students still have to get to and from,” says Fries. “But with us, you know, there’s a small population of folks that actually want to do this job.”

And with the pandemic still hitting the four-states, getting the positions filled will take more time. So they ask parents to work with them as much as possible and be patient as the bumps are smoothed out.

“If you’re able to, transport your students,” says Bevis. “Otherwise, patience is the biggest thing.”

“Yeah, patience is key when it comes to transportation. We’re not always the fastest, but we’re always gonna be the safest,” says Fries.

If you may be interested in becoming a school bus driver in Joplin, you can apply here: http://joplin.ss11.sharpschool.com/cms/One.aspx?portalId=153084&pageId=427609

If you may be interested in a job in Carthage, you can apply here: https://www.applitrack.com/carthage/OnlineApp/default.aspx