Letter: Schools are in desperate need of bus drivers

Ridgefield School District Superintendent Nathan McCann shares information on the shortage of bus drivers in the KWRL Transportation Co-op

Nathan McCann, superintendent
Ridgefield School District

Anyone who has been keeping up with current events is undoubtedly aware that the ongoing labor shortage is creating challenges across just about every industry and profession. Without enough workers to go around, restaurants have been reducing the hours that they’re open, veterinary offices cannot meet the demand for pet care, and manufacturers of all kinds are desperate for workers to help fill in supply chain gaps.

Nathan McDann, superintendent, Ridgefield School District
Nathan McCann, superintendent, Ridgefield School District

Unfortunately, this labor shortage is also creating huge challenges for school districts. While there are significant shortages of teachers and substitutes, no area has been more impacted than bus transportation. To state the obvious, bus drivers are essential for schools to run efficiently. Ridgefield School District’s student transportation services provider, KWRL Transportation (a cooperative serving Kalama, Woodland, Ridgefield, and La Center School Districts), has been desperately trying to hire and train additional drivers to cover bus routes in north Clark County. It’s been all hands on deck at the cooperative, with drivers doubling up on their usual routes (which unfortunately leads to buses running late), joined by administrators, office staff, and mechanics, pulled from their usual duties so they can drive buses. I deeply admire and appreciate this incredible display of commitment to purpose and teamwork. It is inspiring.

Unfortunately, it is both unsustainable and insufficient to meet demand. We know everyone — parents, teachers, volunteers, and the general public — are spread thin right now. And we know that we are far from alone in these challenges. The driver shortage is nationwide and affects trucking companies and public transportation, as well as school buses. Even though we are not alone in solving this problem, we are still asking for your help.

If you are looking for work or are considering changing careers, we encourage you to apply to be a school bus driver. We find that serving students and helping them get to school safely and on time each day is a tremendously rewarding way to earn a living and a genuine service to the community. School bus drivers are more than employees; they’re ambassadors for the school district. Drivers are the first school employees students see in the morning and the last they see each afternoon or evening. These vital team members are responsible for getting students to and from school safely each day, and they have a real impact on student’s lives and the greater community.

How so? Let’s start with the most important aspect, student safety! According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, students are nearly 70 times more likely to arrive safely on a school bus than traveling by car. Having sufficient drivers to operate all our routes shortens distances and times students spend on the buses. This encourages more families to choose bus transportation, which aids in decreasing traffic congestion. Athletic and extracurricular activities are a vital part of the educational experience. For many of us, the times spent competing against other schools are some of our fondest memories. We want to be able to provide transportation services to those events. Finally, when we can employ a fully-staffed

driver team, we operate more balanced routes, allowing drivers to effectively manage student conduct and foster an improved bus climate and culture. This is a best practice for drivers and helps them develop positive and respectful relationships with individual students.

School district transportation departments are rolling out robust bonuses and hiring incentives. With pay starting at $23.37 per hour at KWRL, paid CDL training, and eligibility for public employee benefits, many aspects make this a rewarding job. 

Please visit www.KWRL.org and look for the “Employment Opportunities” section for links to apply for open positions.

Thank you, and remain #RidgefieldResilient.

Editor’s note: Bus drivers in the KWRL Transportation Co-op are included in Governor Jay Inslee’s mandate requiring state and school employees to either be vaccinated or receive an approved exemption. According to a Ridgefield School District spokesperson, the health and safety protocols will be the same for all drivers employed by KWRL Transportation, regardless of vaccination status. 

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Matt
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Matt
24 days ago

It will take a while until the extended unemployment benefits work their way out of the system. They’ll be back.

Jim
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Jim
14 days ago
Reply to  Matt

Not if they have to get the jab. Workers are moving out of Washington State for that very reason.

Cathy
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Cathy
24 days ago

My bus driver friends say driving and monitoring behavior on the bus is impossible. Consider hiring bus monitors. Drivers can concentrate on driving. Bus monitors are watching the kids and controlling behaviors.Therefore, less burnout of bus drivers.

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