Sorrey said their recruitment initiatives this summer were “unusual for a transportation unit.” They included a community carnival event that brought in 16 applicants and participation in the Miller Park Pride Parade, bringing 22 interested drivers.
The national average number of bus drivers is down 12%, Sorrey said. Based on last year's routes, First Student needs to have about 147 drivers, which includes having 10% more than what's needed for the core routes as substitutes.
“We are missing 5% extra, so I already have 5% more than I need, so we’re doing pretty good,” Sorrey said.
Heyworth schools have also noticed a driver shortage in recent years, and Superintendent Lisa Taylor said they are considering combining two routes to make sure they have enough drivers.
“Our transportation director drives a route along with our retired director,” she said. “It would be great to have four or five (more) drivers, especially with activities expected to return to normal.”
LeRoy Superintendent Gary Tipsord said they’re staffed, but don’t have any substitutes so far.
“Anytime we fall short or someone is sick, we have to pull staff, who have a bus license, from another duty,” he said.
Reilly also said given District 87’s current shortage, Illinois Central will have to pull people who would normally be working in the facility “and not really slated and scheduled to be a driver” to cover routes.
"We would love to have members of the community who would be interested in supporting schools by being a bus driver — we’d love to have people reach out to Illinois Central and apply," he said.
Reilly said the starting rate for their drivers is $17.48 and Gordon is “working to try to improve that.”
“Getting a very competitive pay would help,” Reilly said.
Bus companies, including Illinois Central, typically require bus driver applicants to have a CDL or be able to obtain the license, and new drivers are trained upon hire.
Recent updates to COVID mitigations removed the capacity limits for school buses. Previously only 50 students were allowed to ride at one time.
Reilly said he anticipates the number of students on buses to return to pre-pandemic levels, though he expects some parents of students who would typically ride the bus will instead provide their own transportation.
Masks will be required for all students and staff on school buses, as that falls under public transportation, which maintains a mask mandate in Illinois.
Photos: Surviving COVID in central Illinois Schools
The end of school, for now
Supplying schoolchildren's needs
The lost year
Congrats Kristin and Matthew
The contents of their desks
Meals for home
Cooks of mercy
Dressing for success
Wear a mask!
Back to school, back to school ...
Getting equipped for school
Won't miss a note
Another kind of test
Fashion for the times
Creating art with BCAI
Back to class, for a while
Learning goes on
Back to school
A new world
Looking for a few good drivers
Holding down the fort
One last test
Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.
Students in McLean County Unit 5 will have the option to participate in weekly COVID-19 testing when school starts next month, which could reduce the number of students required to quarantine, Superintendent Kristen Weikle said Wednesday.
The 2021 annual Back 2 School Alliance giveaway won’t be a party like in pre-pandemic years but organizers are looking forward to handing out 4,000 backpacks filled with new school supplies to students from McLean County Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87 schools.
A school bus parked at Bloomington High School advertises for school bus drivers on Thursday. As the first day of school looms ever closer, school bus companies are working hard to find drivers for routes.
Flags flutter in the breeze as Central Illinois School Bus, 1103 1/2 E. Croxton Ave., advertises for school bus drivers on Thursday. Filling available positions has always been an issue for school bus companies, but the pandemic has created even greater recruiting problems.