Northland schools struggling with shortage of bus drivers, substitutes

Buses depart for the day
Buses depart for the day(KBJR/CBS)
Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 5:55 PM CST
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DULUTH, MN. (KBJR) - The national struggle with bus and substitute teacher shortages found its way to the northland, causing even a superintendent to fill routes.

Superintendent Jay Belcastro of The Lake Superior School District said district staff is now in the process of getting their CDL license so they can step in as bus drivers amid the crisis.

“The issue with drivers has not gone away in fact, we are working with six of us including myself, that are going through to get their CDL, so you may be looking at a new Lake Superior School District bus driver,”

Tim Wagner has been a bus driver for 18 years in the Hermantown District. Wagner said he’s never been busier.

“We sometimes have to do two routes, double up our routes, especially in the afternoon when there’s school trips, sports, and activities like that,” Wagner said.

Three of those types of events at Lake Superior School District were canceled due to the driver shortage. Belcastro said to make transportation more efficient, they have to think about canceling routes. But no routes have been canceled yet.

Belcastro said the ongoing shortage could be due to retirements, lack of people getting their commercial driver’s licenses, and the pay.

Superintendent John Magas of the Duluth School District agrees and said his district is now raising bus drivers’ wages as an incentive.

“We have to think about their well-being as well. So we’re really trying as hard as possible to recruit our bus drivers we’ve raised they pay for our bus drivers by almost four dollars an hour,” Magas said.

Both districts have also had a substitute shortage.

Magas said in the past year, a third of the district’s substitute teacher positions are vacant.

“If there isn’t a substitute teacher it means that we have to call upon other teachers or administrators or we here at district offices have been substituting as well to make sure we’re filling that void,” Magas said.

Both districts hope that with greater incentives and a drastic increase in recruitment efforts change will come soon.

Click here for more information on how to become a bus driver in Minnesota, and here for a substitute.

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