116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DAVENPORT — Schools in Davenport surprised parents Monday with an announcement that classes had been canceled because there weren’t enough drivers to run school bus routes.
The Davenport Community School District informed parents early Monday that classes were canceled because of a school bus driver shortage. All Saints Catholic School and Trinity Lutheran School also announced closures Monday because of the shortage.
A person who answered the phone Monday at Durham School Services in Davenport, which provides school bus service to the districts, directed questions to Ed Flavin, a media spokesman for Durham.
Flavin cited “varying reasons” for the shortage, including absences due to COVID-19 and quarantining following exposures. The company anticipated that all its routes would be covered Tuesday and for the rest of the week, he said.
“The safety of our passengers and our employees is our number one priority, and we want to ensure that, especially in these cold winter months, we arrive on time to our scheduled stops,” Flavin said in an email to the Associated Press. “Today, we did not feel this could be accomplished.”
Students had been slated to return to school Monday after a two-week holiday break.
Other Eastern Iowa school districts also continue to experience a shortage of bus drivers, but they have not been severe enough to cause school cancellations.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District uses its mechanics employees as substitute drivers when needed.
The district still is hiring new bus drivers and is offering a $500 signing bonus.
The Iowa City Community School District also is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers and is working to recruit new employees.
The Mount Vernon and Solon school districts do not have a shortage of bus drivers, but they may expect a shortage when some of their longtime drivers retire in the next several years.
Greg Batenhorst, Mount Vernon superintendent, said the district has only seven regular bus routes, so its needs are not like those of bigger school districts such as Davenport and Cedar Rapids.
“People who have a passion for kids and are looking for either a part-time job or a job that can work around their schedules with other employment make for great drivers,” Batenhorst said.
“Some of our drivers have retired from other full-time careers and are looking for something to make a little money and keep them engaged in work,” Batenhorst said. “Others are able to work their driving schedules around other careers, so flexibility is key in being able to commit to driving a bus for a school district.”
When Solon is short on bus drivers, drivers may pick up students on their regular route and drop them off at school before heading back out to cover another route.
When this happens, some students arrive late to school, Solon Superintendent Davis Eidahl said.
“This is the first year we hired more drivers than we have routes, but it has benefited us greatly with accommodating absenteeism,” Eidahl said. “If we had additional drivers apply, we would hire them without having a current vacancy.”
Solon also raised its daily rate this year to compete with neighboring districts.
“Bus drivers are a difficult vacancy to fill because it’s not a full-time job, yet it requires a morning and afternoon shift,” Eidahl said. “We have farmers that have been driving semi-tractor trailers for decades, yet would require hours and hours of additional training and testing to get licensed to drive a bus.”
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