SWARTZ CREEK — The Swartz Creek Community Schools Board of Education hopes they’ve found a solution to the problem with hiring bus drivers.
For several years now, the district, like districts across the county, has struggled to staff its transportation department.
Last week, the school board voted to contract with First Student, a Cincinnati-headquartered company that provides student transportation solutions throughout the United States and Canada.
“We’ve faced some significant challenges finding drivers,” said school Superintendent Ben Mainka.
The district has been actively recruiting, and recently offered a $2,000 incentive for drivers who work for 90 days.
“We’ve had some mild success, but we just have not been able to find drivers,” Mainka said.
Complicating matters, two veteran drivers retired a week before the start of the 2020-21 school year.
“To try to find someone, get them a CDL license, get them onsite and fingerprinted and ready to go is not possible in one week,” Mainka said.
Mainka said he sought advice from colleagues in neighboring districts, and one recommended he contact First Student.
“They had three drivers on our doorstep within two days, fully licensed and insured,” he said.
District officials consulted with the bus drivers’ union, assuring them that the goal is to hire as many of the district’s own drivers as possible, but when there aren’t enough people applying, “we have to look for other means for being able to supply the labor,” Mainka said.
The district will pay First Student $200 per day per driver.
“We wouldn’t want to fully staff our transportation department with First Student drivers, but it’s very, very helpful and very flexible, and it’s been a great relationship so far,” Mainka said.
If the district wished to hire any of the First Student drivers, it may do so for a $3,000 fee, which is not significantly different than what it would cost to hire, train and fingerprint a new driver.
Mainka said the school district previously did not utilize substitute bus drivers.
“When we had a bus driver call in sick, we doubled up,” he said.