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Bus driver shortages continue

With numerous schools starting next week, students and families are preparing to slip back into their normal routines.

For many, that includes riding a bus to and from the classroom, the track, the field.

However, a severe labor shortage in the busing industry threatens to possibly change that.

WXPR has reported on the bus driver shortage for a few years now.

It’s a nationwide problem that pre-dates COVID.

The pandemic only made it worse.

Wendy Bowen is owner of Bowen’s Bus Service, which works with the Rhinelander School District.

“With the shortage, it means several things. We can't run routes like normal. So, we have to combine some routes to make sure all the kiddos get bused. It means some sports don't get busing. The district's been really good with us in Rhinelander- working with us on getting things covered, either by switching the days, or having us take them early, come back rather than go back and get them,” she said.

She explains that many of their drivers retired within the past few years, leaving them with too few employees.

At the same time, she said that federal regulations and testing have increased, making it harder to become a driver.

Since the pandemic, her drivers have also noticed increased emotional and behavioral needs from students, which fits with national statistics.

Last year, the National Center of Education Statistics published a report finding that almost 90% of public schools reported the pandemic negatively impacted student’s socio-emotional development during the 2021–22 school year.

All of that is exacerbated by the nationwide labor shortage we’ve seen increasingly since COVID-19 first hit.

Earlier this month, Governor Tony Evers signed a bipartisan bill to allow school board members to drive buses, given they get the proper qualifications.

However, Bowen says she’s seen little change.

“We just keep trudging, we get the word out that w e need drivers. We have a bus out posted at WalMart. We have a sign out here. We've gone on channel 12. We’ve ads out,” she said.

New driving routes begin next week with the start of school.

Bowen urges the community to be patient in light of shortages.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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