While the never-ending headlines of school bus driver shortages continue to populate the national news, Richfield Public Schools near Minneapolis is reevaluating its employee wanted advertisements by targeting people who already love to drive.
In a recent School Transportation News survey, 80 percent of respondents nationwide said their school district or bus company are currently short drivers. While more than half said they pay new applicants while they are training for their CDL, districts are still experiencing a lack of drivers interested in a position.
Instead, Richfield Public Schools is choosing to advertise to a select group of people who already like driving. Jennifer Valley, director of marketing and communications for the district, said Richfield usual advertises on social media and employment websites with little if any success. Now, she said, the district is targeting Uber and Lyft drivers in the area to work part-time at the district.
“They love to drive, they’re on the road and they know the community, so why not pick up a part-time school bus driver route in the morning or afternoon?” observed Valley. “We picked it as something they can do to supplement their driving. It wouldn’t interfere with their regular Uber or Lyft driving, which is evenings and weekends, which is the most lucrative time for Uber and Lyft.”
Valley said the district began the initiative about a week ago. While it is still too early to determine if it has been a success, she added that the idea appears to be generating interest in the community.
Richfield started by sharing the announcement in several different Facebook groups. The district also created flyers the size of business cards that staff or families can pass out to their drivers when taking an Uber or Lyft. Valley noted that on Friday of last week, the organizer of the local Lyft Facebook group contacted the district to see how they could further help.
“We have benefits for even some of our part-time drivers,” Valley said. “So we thought it might be a really great compliment to what [Uber and Lyft] drivers are already doing.”
Dan Kretsinger, director of facilities and transportation for the district, said the program not only pays for training after the applicants pass their written commercial driver’s license (CDL) test. It also offers benefits to people who work more than 14 hours a week. That is something the district has been providing for as long as he has worked there, he added.
Kretsinger said district compensation is prorated, meaning the closer the employees get to 40 hours a week, the more the district pays towards benefits. Richfield also offers drivers membership in the Public Employee’s Retirement Association (PERA) to receive benefits.
The district pays $17.73 in starting pay to a school bus driver with no prior experience. That is the same salary the drivers receive after they earn their CDL permit and during the behind-the-wheel training with the examiner.
“I think we are very competitive in our pay, for us. This is a union position,” Kretsinger said. “We look at contracts every two years, and we try to stay competitive with other districts in our area. … The one benefit that I think that we have, [in contrast to] what private companies have, is that we offer the really good benefits for part-time workers. I don’t know that other companies can really compete with us in that respect.”
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Richfield Public Schools is short 11 drivers for the current school year, but Kretsinger, said the district has been short-staffed throughout the duration of his four-year tenure at the district. Richfield operates 30 school buses and a total of 127 daily routes.
While the district currently has 19 dedicated school bus drivers, it also has an additional five or six full-time employees working in the transportation building that drive buses, as needed. These include Kretsinger and department dispatchers. Ideally, Kretsinger said he would like to have 30 drivers on staff who could cover sporting trips and special activities.
Kretsinger added that he remembers a few times when the district was on par with its staffing, but that only lasted a few weeks before someone retired.
While Richfield Public Schools does pay to train its new applicants after they pass the written CDL test, Kretsinger said salary is not an issue. Instead, he believes it is the competing jobs in the Twin Cities and all of the hurdles that school bus driver applicants have to overcome when trying to obtain their CDL.
“All the new laws are a challenge. I think that makes people pause when getting a job as a bus driver,” Kretsinger said. “Because of all the work that it takes to get the license, and then [there is] the Department Of Transportation physical, the changes in that, and having to bring a birth certificate every time you do this stuff. It’s just a challenge in that way, and I think it’s a deterrent to people—that there’s quite a bit to do to get your license.”
Kretsinger observed that federal and state laws are continually changing, so that also makes it hard for new applicants to want to get behind the wheel.
“In the Twin Cities, we also have really low unemployment right now. There are a lot of places that are hiring,” Valley explained. “So, when you have obstacles to becoming a bus driver, but you can start tomorrow with a similar job and maybe not drive, [that is a factor]. It is hard across the board in a lot of sectors. We are seeing it in construction, transportation, in a lot of the trades. There is definitely an overall shortage in the Twin Cities. There are more jobs than people.”