- Sponsorship -

If You Park It They Will Come

Sign on Bus in Field Helps Ease Driver Shortage

A big, old Thornapple Kellogg School District bus parked along the M-37 highway in a farmer’s field land is an attempt to attract substitute bus drivers to the district, a challenge schools across the county, state and nation are facing.

Shawn Hayward, transportation manager for Thornapple Kellogg Schools, came up with the bus billboard idea to try to solve his district’s shortage of substitute drivers in the 117 square-mile district. “The first five days of school I was driving,” he says.

Thousands of drivers pass the site every day on the busy highway, and the idea is working. Hayward has hired 10 new substitute drivers since the bus was parked with its sign on Sept. 15.

Previously he had one substitute for the a.m.and one for the p.m. shift, one for extracurricular and sports trips and one sub who was always available. The district’s mechanic drove when Hayward was in a pinch, taking him away from his regular duties.

Thornapple Kellogg isn’t the only school system struggling with finding bus drivers. “Most districts are short of drivers constantly,” says John Savage, Kent ISD transportation coordinator. Patrick Dean of Dean Transportation, a company that provides busing service for schools across the state, calls the issue a “national epidemic.”

Difficulties Thornapple Kellogg struggles with include some drivers only being available a few days a week and others who don’t want to run regular routes, Hayward says “There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being a bus driver,” he says. “You’re going out on routes you don’t know, and when it’s dark, it’s hard to find the stops.”

A low unemployment rate in Kent County is a reason Savage thinks is causing the shortage, as it makes other job options more attractive. The Kent ISD transportation coordinator also says Grand Rapids area has become more attractive to families, making a need for more buses to get students to school. Financial troubles schools face make it hard to give raises and some have cut benefits, although Dean Transportation was able to increase the pay nearly $2 an hour, bringing the wage for drivers to $15 an hour.

Not enough substitute drivers means students get home later, ride times are longer and more students fill the buses, say school transportation directors. Hayward worried the problem would worsen when spring sports began before his recent hires.

To attract drivers, Dean pays the cost of training for getting a commercial driving license required to drive a bus. Efforts to find and retain drivers at Dean have included a summer job fair, which brought in 10 new drivers. The company is working with schools to get part-time workers who already work at the school, such as lunch aides, to add add bus driving as another part-time job. All employees at the company, even those working office jobs, have CDL licenses that let them drive a bus when the company is shorthanded. Patrick Dean himself even drives a couple of times a year when a sub is needed.

A Different Approach and View

Jacquie Fase, director of transportation at Rockford Public Schools, uses a system that has 10 morning drivers and 10 afternoon drivers. This creates a built-in sub list and lessens problems with filling substitute slots.

Another possible reason for her success in running her department is her exuberance when talking about bus driving. She calls it an “awesome” job and a “rewarding career.”

“It blows my mind you can’t get someone to drive a school bus,” says the former driver. “I love driving a school bus. You see the sunrise every morning. If you love kids, it’s the best job in the world.”


Kent ISD bus driver openings

- Sponsorship -
Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


Fourth-grade hockey fan gets a magical hour on ice: ‘I made the shot!’

Raised as a Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins hockey fan, Jackson Solow lights up while skating on an ice rink wearing his favorite hockey jersey...

‘This time it is continued learning’

One school’s switch from in-person to virtual education last week was nearly seamless, especially when compared with the forced school closure in March...

Foundation grants $28,285 in fall funding requests

Virtual phys ed and art experiences, materials to improve classroom focus and books on social issues aimed at middle-schoolers are among the grants approved this fall...

Latest school closings expand on state-ordered high school mandate

More Kent County districts continue to announce temporary school building closures, as schools contend with a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Kent County and Michigan...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Board to interview four applicants for superintendent post

The public is invited to attend interviews on Nov. 10-11 with four finalists for the Thornapple Kellogg superintendent post...

Superintendent announces retirement, interim named

A former Byron Center superintendent is taking the reins at Thornapple Kellogg on an interim basis...

‘I didn’t give up’

If a challenge becomes an excuse, said senior Clair Jansma, “it's much harder to overcome and you sacrifice opportunities”...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU