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Drivers wanted: Bus driver shortage could mean cancellations, delays

Bus driver Amanda Molitor gives the thumbs up to a student after school on Tuesday at Bemidji Middle School. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
A students looks out the bus window after school on Tuesday at Bemidji Middle School. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- Bemidji Area Schools needs more bus drivers.

The district has 76 regular routes and about that many regular drivers, transportation coordinator Greg Liedl told the Pioneer, but about 10-12 drivers can’t make their regular shift on any given day for a variety of personal or medical reasons. That means transportation department staff regularly call on a dwindling stable of substitute drivers or put their regular duties on hold and drive a route themselves.

Greg Liedl, the school district’s transportation coordinator, said he drove a route seven times last year.

“So far this year, I’ve driven 45 times,” he said. The route Liedl drove Tuesday morning made 46.

He said the department needs about 6-8 new substitute drivers to cover the shortage.

A message on Bemidji Area Schools’ website indicates the shortage might prompt district leaders to cancel field trips or trips for school activities and athletics; combine regular routes; or delay or cancel others.

But Liedl told the Pioneer that district staff do not plan to cancel any routes.

“I have no intention of canceling,” Liedl said emphatically. “That’s a drastic measure, as far as I’m concerned.”

Transportation department staff have already combined three routes this year, but Liedl said he’s not sure how many more they can combine because of the sheer geographical size of the district and because buses can only carry so many students at a time.

Other routes may be delayed while a driver runs a different route beforehand.

Hurdles new drivers need to clear include a drug screening, a physical and four written tests. New federal rules expected to take effect in 2020 will add three more tests, Liedl said, plus more training.

And Gene Dillon Elementary, a soon-to-be-completed school that will house all the district’s fourth and fifth graders, could present a slew of new logistical issues.

To apply for a bus driving job at Bemidji Area Schools:

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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