HUMBOLDT — With a shortage of bus drivers, the Horizon School Division has spent about $45,000 on mileage payouts to families within the division since September to ensure students can make it to school.
If the school division is unable to offer transportation to or from school for eligible families, Horizon is obligated to pay families out the cost of mileage to drive the students.
According to Justin Arendt, superintendent of operational services, it’s not something they normally have to do, because they typically have enough drivers to cover the routes.
“It ends up being basically that we’re forced to compensate parents at the current mileage rates to get them to school, and ideally we’d like to get them to school on a school bus,” he said.
“We’re going to have a pressing need for the foreseeable future based on where we’re at.”
In Arendt’s report to the Horizon board during their March meeting, he said they were “encouraged” recently with an uptick in applications, filling a number of outstanding routes including two in Foam Lake, and one in Watson which has been vacant since the beginning of the year.
Arendt attributed the recent driver applications to a mixture of new incentives and a change in advertising methods which he said is planned to be used for the foreseeable future.
“What we normally used to do is we put them up on the website and maybe post to SaskJobs and that kind of thing where now we’re getting billboards and some signs and things like that that are in the communities we’re trying to recruit in.”
Despite this, two routes remain vacant, one in Wynyard and one in Wadena, and another in Raymore is expected to become vacant if the division cannot find a replacement by the end of the year.
Arendt said another impact of the driver shortage is ensuring students can make it to extracurriculars. Typically substitute drivers are used to transport students, so routes can be maintained with normal coverage – but right now the sub pool sits dry.
“We just tried to expand the people we’re communicating to and the methods that we’re using and sharing the incentives that are new – the signing bonus, the retention bonus, that sort of thing,” he said. “If they have friends that would like to drive, current bus drivers’ friends, colleagues, family, we would offer them an additional incentive for finding someone to come and drive as well.”
For those interested in being drivers, Arendt asked them to call the Horizon Division office at 306-682-8636 and ask for Jocelyne Possberg, manager of transportation services, or go to the Horizon School Division’s website at horizonsd.ca. No previous experience necessary, training will be provided.
Kevin Garinger, Horizon’s director of education, said that the role has been popular with farmers or folks who have retired in the past, due to the split shift nature.
“As much as it pays fairly well, it’s not like you can do a bus driving job and only a bus driving job, it’s got a split shift in it,” Garinger said. “When they’re in a noble profession like farming, it works to be able to drive a bus, take a break from the tractor or whatever it is to pick up the kids at the end of the day.