SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– The Springfield Public School District is the largest in the state. According to the district, about 7,600 of its students ride a school bus each day. But, like many districts across the country, SPS is having a hard time finding people to drive their buses.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that it’s not simply you’re just driving a vehicle through the streets. You are managing your students, you’re interacting with your students and you are being forever watchful for whatever drivers are doing,” said Amy Wells.
Wells, a valued bus driving pro, has been working behind the wheel for about 11 years. She says she loves her job and interacting with the students and SPS says it loves having her on board.
“Very often we are the first friendly face as part of our education system,” she told Ozarks First. “We greet them and we bring them on board, we learn their names we become a part of their lives.”
Wells is one of 127 drivers tasked with driving 132 routes twice a day. That’s about 10,000 miles worth of driving every day. If you can’t see the manpower shortage in the numbers, let SPS Transportation Director Jonathan Shelden explain.
“Right now we are coming in each day needing to fill 5 routes before we receive any kind of call-offs. Ideally, we would have a 132-drivers and we would have about 13 subs. So we would love to bring on board about 18 new drivers,” Shelden said.
If a driver calls in sick or just doesn’t show up, the office and maintenance workers are trained to take over some routes.
“Right now, with us being short-staffed they are oftentimes driving almost every day,” Shelden said.
The district says all drivers receive free CDL training with pay starting at $14 an hour. The district even pays you during training hours.
Drivers receive full-time benefits for part-time work, as well as medical and dental insurance with the monthly premiums covered by the district. There are also retirement plans available.
As for Wells, she says one of the greatest benefits is the time spent with the students each day.
“Safety is our primary concern and we really have to be careful with what we are doing out on the roads,” she said.
“We are constantly watching our students, we are watching what other drivers are doing. We are attentive to weather conditions so there is a great deal of weather responsibility behind the wheel of the school bus.”
In the meantime, the district hopes to find more drivers so that the wheels on the bus can keep going round and round.