Area School Districts Get Creative to Attract Bus Drivers and Substitute Teachers


West-central Illinois school districts are feeling the pressure of not having enough bus drivers available to run routes, forcing some schools to dismiss students early and others nervous about how close they are not being able to provide transportation.

“It’s very simple, we need bus drivers,” said Steve Ptacek, principal of School District 117 in Jacksonville. “It’s the early childhood (program) for us.”

The district manages to provide bus transportation for students in the early years program with the drivers it has available, but the loss of just one driver would be a setback.

“It’s okay now, but it’s precarious,” Ptacek said.

Raising hourly wages for bus drivers is part of the district’s move to encourage people to apply for bus driver jobs, Ptacek said.

The salary, which was $16.71 an hour, has increased to $19.

“We just increased it to $19.79,” Ptacek said. “We are trying to remedy the situation.”

The district also offers better pay for substitute teachers, Ptacek said. Currently, a substitute teacher in the district will earn $125 per day. After 19 days of teaching, the salary will be increased to $150 per day.

“It’s not back-to-back days,” Ptacek said.

The Triopia School District is also feeling the heat from the lack of bus drivers, with students in Chapin, Concord and Arenzville needing transportation to and from school.

Five drivers would be the best-case scenario, Superintendent Adam Dean said, although the district now has four.

Dean fires some students 20 minutes early as a result.

“Some kids lose their education because of those 20 minutes,” Dean said. “That’s where my hand is pushed.”

To attract drivers, the district instituted a $1.25 per hour flat rate increase and options for health benefits that would fall under the “support staff” category.

But the process of becoming a school bus driver is not easy. Each driver must go through an 8-hour state class, a 4-hour federal class, and pass three separate tests and a drug test.

“Then you have to pass the driving test,” Dean said, adding that he had recently been certified to drive the buses. “It’s just hard to get certified and you have odd hours. At the end of the day, they’re really not interested.”

The only shortage Triopia is feeling so far this school year is in bus drivers, Dean said, adding that the district has enough teachers and substitute teachers, the latter earning $100 a day.

“We are very lucky,” Dean said. “All teaching positions (at Triopia) are filled.”

As the school year approached, schools in Meredosia were able to fill the district bus driver position, but not until the last minute, Superintendent Thad Walker said.

“We were lucky to take a new one this year” and add the Griggsville route, Walker said.

The district is also getting by with the staff and resources it has, but Walker will always welcome more, he said.

“If people are interested and have the qualifications, go ahead and apply,” he said.

The Beardstown School District is also looking to increase the number of its substitute teachers, specifically two full-time certified substitute teachers. The positions offer a salary of $207 a day, according to a post on the district’s Facebook page.

The Beardstown District is also looking for retired teachers and non-retired teachers for day-to-day supply positions.

Illinois substitute teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and a valid Illinois Professional Educator’s License. Applications are made through the Illinois State Board of Education.

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