‘We just need the drivers’: School districts grapple with staffing shortages

Aug 22, 2022, 6:16 PM | Updated: 8:21 pm

AMERICAN FORK, Utah — Wendy Haderlie has been a bus driver for the Alpine School District for 15 years.

“I love it. I love the kids,” she said. “They need to have that contact. They need to have somebody that cares when they get on the bus first thing in the morning and maybe even that last thing when they get off.”

She describes it as a fulfilling job where she can make a difference in students’ lives. But this year, staffing shortages are making her job harder.

“We’re trying,” Haderlie said. “We’re doing our best at this time, but we could really, really use more drivers.”

The district is short 40 bus drivers. The lack of drivers has resulted in crowded buses, delays, changed boundaries and creative problem solving.

“It makes us so that sometimes we are not on time picking students up, which causes distress on the parents and sometimes the students and so that makes it really hard,” Haderlie explained.

Alpine District’s spokesperson said some drivers are working overtime to help cover all the routes.

“We have a lot of buses. We just need the drivers,” said David Stephenson, the district’s executive director of external relations and communications.

The district has also increased pay to nearly $22 an hour and is adding incentives to attract and retain drivers.

“We’ve had to consolidate some of the bus stops,” Stephenson said. “We’ve also had to run some double runs, which bus drivers will pick up a certain amount of kids and take them home and then come back and pick up another group of kids and take them home.”

The transportation department isn’t the only place where Alpine needs help. Schools across the district also need 33 more workers in lunchrooms and 80 teacher assistants.

Other nearby districts report similar shortages: Jordan School District says it needs about 20 bus drivers, while the Murray School District needs 30 paraprofessionals. The Canyons School District is short about 28 nutrition workers and 29 teacher aides.

The spokesperson for the Canyons District said that everyone pitches in when schools are operating with staffing shortages.

“Last year, almost every member of the transportation staff covered a route in addition to their regular duties,” Jeff Haney, the district’s director of communications, said in an email to KSL TV. “This year, they are doing the same thing, even the mechanics.”

The districts encourage parents to consider working at their child’s school.

“There are more than a few jobs that are just a few hours during the school day, which could be a perfect fit for a parent whose children are all at school during that time,” Haney said.

When Alpine District had a substitute teacher shortage last year, Stephenson said it was incredible how the community stepped up to meet the need. They are hoping the community does the same this year with bus drivers, lunch workers and teacher aides.

“If your neighborhood school needs a teacher assistant and you have some time, go talk to the office and see what’s available,” Stephenson said.

“If you’ve got a minute, come and help us out, like we really, really need it,” Harderlie said.

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‘We just need the drivers’: School districts grapple with staffing shortages