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Northwoods Schools Grapple With School Bus Driver Shortage

Erin Gottsacker/WXPR

As school gears up for the fall, districts around the country are facing a shortage of bus drivers.

It’s a shortage so severe that a school district in Delaware is offering to pay parents to drive their kids to school.

Another in Pennsylvania had to delay the start of classes because so many students would have to walk to school.

The shortage is impacting schools in Northern Wisconsin too – from Rhinelander and Tomahawk schools to the Florence County School District.

It has been around for a while, but COVID-19 has made the problem worse.

Kim Weyers is the manager of Bowen’s Bus Service, Inc., which is the school bus service for Rhinelander.

“The bus driver shortage was an issue before COVID hit, and then with COVID happening, it went from being a little bit of an issue to critical,” she says.

Weyers says one of the biggest pools of people who become school bus drivers are retired or semi-retired people.

Those are the same people who are at high risk for developing symptoms from COVID-19.

“So I think it’s made a lot of people step back and say, you know, I might wait or I’m not going to do that,” Weyers explains.

Additionally, the Northwoods is facing a labor shortage; there are not enough people to fill available positions across the board.

So where does this leave Rhinelander students who rely on the school bus?

Weyers says she’s short five school bus drivers.

That’s enough to bring kids to and from school each day, but not enough to transport kids to after-school activities.

“We just don’t have the drivers to cover those trips,” she says.

Bowen’s Bus Service is working with the school district to figure out a plan for the school year, but without more drivers, Weyers says the solution won’t be easy.

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