A shortage of bus drivers is a common issue for many schools. It seems simple, but the reality is people are not breaking down doors to become licensed bus drivers.
Not having enough bus drivers can affect many parts of the school day, and it can really raise havoc on afterschool activities. Activities directors now need to make sure that they not only have a bus, but also someone to drive it once the athletic schedule is created.
Randolph High School, a small school in southeastern Minnesota, has a strong and supportive following from the community. Unfortunately, like most area schools, Randolph is struggling with finding bus drivers for student activities and traditional bus routes home from school.
The school employs a total of nine bus drivers – six with regular morning/afternoon routes and three substitutes. The substitute drivers have a wide range of full-time work ranging from a retiree to a farmer to someone working in an insurance office. The substitutes mainly fill in on a regular route so the regular route driver can drive an activity bus; however, there are also times when the substitute drivers are asked to drive activity buses as well.
In addition to the lack of bus drivers, the other major hurdle with transportation is location. Randolph’s nearest conference opponent is 45 minutes away. This has led to some creative and interesting scheduling as some multiple conference trips are more than 90 minutes away.
There are multiple ways Randolph has tried to make up for the lack of drivers. It is not uncommon to have members of the school administration drive kids home in a school van. With a little planning and flexibility, Randolph can take the six afternoon bus routes down to five routes or make the sixth route very short. This opens the schedule for a bus driver to drive an activity bus after school.
Another option has been to employ a “shuttle” system. In this plan, a team will ride with another team and then get picked up later. There have been countless times when the junior high football team has shared a bus with the junior high volleyball team. It is not the best solution because of space issues, but it works. The driver will drop off the football team at its game location and then proceed to the volleyball game site. When another driver finishes his or her daily afternoon route, he or she will then proceed directly to the football game to pick up the junior high team.
Sometimes, our players arrive at games with minimal warmup time; other times the starting times of games have to be changed. Unfortunately, we have had to cancel some lower-level games because there were no drivers available. The Randolph transportation team is very supportive and wants to do everything it can possibly do to ensure the buses can transport teams to contests. Sadly, there are times where it is nearly impossible.
Thankfully, the school administration and transportation department are committed to keeping the varsity teams on their preferred schedules. Those teams have always taken priority. Once that activity bus is covered, a plan is determined for everything else. When it becomes a bigger issue, generally around postseason section tournaments, Randolph has had to reach outside its district to Northfield Lines Bus company. Northfield, which is 10 miles south of Randolph, has its own private charter bus company that also owns school buses, and we have had to hire them on occsion for varsity games.
The biggest help in dealing with the bus driver shortage has come from activities directors of some of our opposing schools. Everyone is in a similar situation, so all activities directors are willing to do whatever it takes to get the games started. Since this is an ongoing issue in many districts, the best option is to work together for the sake of the student-athletes.
In Randolph, one of the activities director’s duties is running the school’s Facebook and Twitter pages. We have used social media as a means to raise awareness, so we post messages once a month that we are looking for bus drivers and to let people know how to apply. Also, whenever a game time is pushed back or rescheduled, we note that it was due to a transportation issue.
By making more people aware of the bus driver shortage, we hope to find some people who want to do this. In addition to social media, Randolph advertises open driving positions in the local newspaper. We also have a bus parked outside the school with a banner on it, and we have even put a bus in the local Fourth of July parade to advertise for open driving positions.
The bus driver shortage adds one more thing to the plate of the activities director. However, with communication and support from the administration, creative solutions can be found. Some of the solutions are not ideal, but games get played and student-athletes have the opportunity to compete. In this situation, finding solutions for what is best for kids starts with a bus driver.
Aaron Soule has been the activities director at Randolph High School in Randolph, Minnesota since 2013 and added the role of assistant high school principal in 2015.