School bus drivers in high demand

by David Hill
In an attempt to attract individuals to become school bus drivers, the Board of Education for School District 564 in Thief River Falls approved a resolution at its Dec. 14 meeting that offers incentives to individuals who would drive buses for the District. At that same meeting, the Board of Education approved an agreement leasing four 2016 77-passenger school buses for routes in the District.
Superintendent Laine Larson said the District is short four full-time and two part-time bus drivers. She said the District has been advertising the positions for several months with little or no success at attracting drivers, and the District pays well, she added.
Current bus drivers are duplicating routes in an effort to make up for the shortage of staff, and performing extra shifts.
Larson praised the drivers and the transportation committee for their hard work and dedication.
The Board of Education had to negotiate this agreement with the Minnesota School Employees Association.
The agreement approved by the Board of Education not only provides an incentive to individuals who would drive bus for the District but provides stipends for current bus drivers to make up for their hardships. 
According to the agreement, a $1,000 signing bonus would be offered to new bus drivers for the 2015-16 school year only. The first half is available upon successful application and the second half at the end of the year.
The District and union also agreed that each current bus driver would receive a $500 hardship pay stipend, and that each transportation assistant would receive a $250 hardship pay stipend.
According to the advertisement for regular route bus driver in The Times, applicants must have a valid Minnesota Certified Driver’s license with School Bus and Air Brake Endorsement and a good driving record. The District would provide training assistance with endorsement requirements. Applicants must submit to a criminal history background check. The starting salary range is $18.18 to $19.62 per hour dependent upon experience with benefit package. The District is also advertising for transportation assistants. The salary for transportation assistants is $12.99 to $14.91 per hour.
Leasing four buses
The Board of Education also approved a lease agreement with Santander Bank for leasing four 2015 IC/CE 77-passenger school buses.
Mike Spears, chairman of the Board of Education, said the buses being replaced were in very poor condition.
According to an advertisement in the Dec. 16 edition of The Times, the District is accepting bids for three used 1994 71-passenger AM Trans/Genesis school buses. All three have 110,000 miles or less. The minimum bid will be $1,200 per unit. Quotes are due by 11 a.m. Dec. 18.
The District is expected to receive the new buses within the next couple of weeks and start using them in January. All four buses come with cameras and will be used as route buses.
At the regular meeting on Dec. 14, the Board of Education approved the mid-year 2015-16 budget with $24,891,054 in revenues and $28,235,110 in expenditures. Tanya Monson-Ek, business manager, said the estimates were very conservative and up-to-date as much as possible.