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Bus staffing improves with emergency pay increases, but job openings remain


Transportation is one of many elements of public education that’s subject to change during recalibration. (hendrix73/FlickrCC)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Campbell County School District bus staffing has vastly improved following pay increases, but the district is still hiring, school officials said.

In an attempt to encourage enough applicants for bus driver jobs last year, the district raised the starting pay from $16.20 an hour to $19.34, to make the wage more competitive with other jobs that require CDL, Transportation Director Keith Chrans said June 9. Chrans said staff examined pay for CDL jobs in the region, around Wyoming and nationally to determine that wage.

While some schools or companies in other parts of the U.S. were paying around $22 an hour, $19.34 was roughly the average of bus driver or CDL driver jobs, he said. Not all of those jobs offer benefits, however. Campbell County School District is able to offer benefits of health, dental and vision insurance, paid time off, and retirement to full-time employees, who work at least 30 hours a week, which the Affordable Care Act requires, Chrans said.

Funding that would have been spent on bus drivers had the district been able to fill the positions last year was applied to others’ pay, through the end of the fiscal year. The transportation budget, which is separate from school district funding, was increased for the fiscal year 2023 budget to keep the pay increases. They were able to recover transportation funding from the state. Whatever Campbell County School District spends on transportation or special education in a given fiscal year the state reimburses at the beginning of the following fiscal year, Chrans said.

Chrans said the district has hired seven drivers to fill 15 available positions during the summer transition, which tends to be a time when people retire or relocate if they had those plans. He said that they will hire another seven drivers over the summer to replace those who left.

“It looks OK at this point in time, and obviously, you just never know in our market area; it’s a very busy community. It’s very busy in all the job fields,” he said. “I’m not panicking yet. … As we hit mid-July then we’ll reassess where we’re at, and if we have to do some additional advertising or searching, then we will.”

They may need to spend some minimal funding on advertising if they reach that point, but even if those positions don’t get filled, they have about a dozen substitute bus drivers who can help bridge the gap, he said.

Human Resources Director Larry Reznicek said June 10 that the district has been struggling to fill two bus mechanic positions, which were posted in April, since mechanics are hard to come by.

“I believe we missed a generation of the trades,” he said.

Chrans said the school district likely competes for personnel with companies that provide transport to the mines and truck driving companies, including those in construction and oil field transportation companies — but also just the abundant job openings of the overall  economy. Other CDL jobs might pay more per hour while not offering benefits, which may be a better fit for them economically, Chrans said.

“Every place you walk in, they’re hiring,” he said. “The whole marketplace is just hungry for staff at this point in time. … I really do think that the service industry in our community all fights for that same pool of applicants. We’re all trying to offer the best deal for them and what works best for some people.”

Chrans said flexibility of hours, flexibility of shifts, daycare, pay and benefits are the top factors in the deal. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic likely impacted the way many people view work, he said.

“I think a lot of families figured out that they can maybe survive with only one person working, so that’s … probably a lot of these employees didn’t come back [at least full-time], between the price of day care and the price of getting out and working,” Chrans said.

He said the school district can work with applicants who want to work part-time through split shift or solely morning shifts or solely night shifts. Chrans said staff really appreciate that bus drivers tend to take care of any personal errands during the day, between doing routes, and don’t tend to take off routes.

“We’re looking for that niche driver who wants to work with us,” Reznicek said.

Emergency pay increases will remain in place for the 2023 fiscal year and will be reviewed and reassessed in the spring of 2023, he said. He said the No. 1 priority for them is to evaluate what they can pay bus drivers and maintain benefits and flexibility for staff. While there’s no guarantee the pay can remain at the emergency staffing level after the 2023 fiscal year, Chrans said that come spring 2023, it will be a very important consideration in long-term plans. Administration and school board officials would make those decisions, he said. Chrans said school districts across the state are determining how to recruit and retain their bus drivers.

“We’ll get school open this fall,” Reznicek said.