Benton Community School Corp. in Indiana was able to overcome longstanding bus driver shortages thanks to an innovative set of strategies, including recruiting teachers and parents and allowing new hires to choose morning or afternoon routes.
Superintendent Dr. Scott Van Der Aa received the Innovative Superintendent Award at a recent Tech & Learning Regional Leadership Summit in California for leading these efforts as well as launching other innovative programs in the district, including installing a free WiFi tower to increase internet access in the rural district and launching a weather station at the district’s high school.
Van Der Aa, who will step down as superintendent at the end of this school year, shares strategies that other education leaders can use to successfully steer clear of bus driver shortages in their district.
1. Recruit Bus Drivers By Letting Drivers Work Mornings or Afternoons
Benton Community School Corp was able to increase drivers by waiving the requirement that drivers complete both a morning and afternoon route.
“So maybe somebody goes into work at 9 a.m. well, then they could work for us in the morning,” Van Der Aa says. “Or maybe vice versa. Maybe they get off at 2 p.m. and they could drive for us in the afternoon.”
The flexibility has helped the district add coverage.
2. Encourage School Employees To Make Extra Money By Driving The Bus
The district has had success offering bus driver positions to current staff members and helping them obtain their commercial driver licenses. The program has proved popular.
“We have a teacher who drives every morning and every afternoon apart from being a teacher, and so that helps us out,” Van Der Aa says. “We have a mechanic who is one of our subs and he drives almost every day. We have a groundskeeper, same thing.”
3. Host A Drive-The-Bus Day
Benton Community School Corp. has been able to successfully build interest in bus driving positions within the community by hosting drive-the-bus days, a concept many other districts have employed in which people with standard driver’s licenses are given the opportunity to drive a real bus on school property.
“Even if you don't have your CDL if there's nobody on the bus, you can drive it in the parking lot on our grounds legally,” says Van Der Aa. This gives community members a feel for what driving a bus is actually like and school employees can help explain the potential benefits of the position to attendees at these events.
4. Make Parents and Others in the Community Aware of The Benefits
“With all our local contacts and community members, we're constantly telling them how easy the training is to go through and how much support we have for the training, and then the rewarding benefits of driving a bus,” Van Der Aa says. “If you have kids in school, now you have a job where you're on the same schedule. The kids have a day off, so you got the day off.”
These types of efforts are driving interest. “We've had a couple of parents that were willing to consider driving and getting their CDL,” Van Der Aa says.