MP teachers’ union concerned about bus driver shortage

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(Posted Oct. 21, 2022)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The Madison-Plains Local Schools teachers’ union has concerns, the main one being busing. Staffing shortages have wreaked havoc with the district’s transportation, resulting in scheduling woes and missed instruction time for students.

On Oct. 18, Jenny Wethington, Madison-Plains Education Association president, brought those concerns before the school board.

“While we acknowledge and appreciate that we are in an untenable situation without an easy or ready solution, the teachers are very concerned about the fact they are missing time with their students, K-12,” Wethington said.

Due to staffing shortages, there are days when bus drivers have to make multiple runs to get all students to school. As a result, some students are getting to school later in the morning than usual, thereby missing instruction time. In some cases, students are missing first period and part of second period. Wethington said the missed time is especially concerning for high school students taking classes required for graduation.

Teachers are being asked to use the 30-minute intervention period of the day to help those students catch up on missed instruction. The problems with that, Wethington said, are that 30 minutes is not enough time, it’s not the same as being in the classroom where give-and-take is possible, and teachers are already using the free period for intervention for students who need to retake state tests.

“I don’t know what the solution is, but this is becoming a very big concern with our team,” Wethington said.

Madison-Plains is not alone when it comes to staffing shortages for transportation. School districts across the state and the country are feeling the same pain, said Chad Eisler, Madison-Plains superintendent.

The district is looking into several possible solutions, including increasing pay rates, creating positions that combine bus driving and other tasks to make for full-time work, offering signing bonuses for new hires and retention bonuses for current employees, and paying new drivers for the time they spend in training.

Eisler compiled pay rates for bus drivers at school districts in Madison County and surrounding communities. At the entry level and mid-level pay rates, Madison-Plains sits at the bottom of the list in the county. For more experienced drivers, Madison-Plains’ pay rate sits at third out of four on the county list.

The current hourly pay rates are as follows:

Starting pay–Madison-Plains, $17.45; London, $18.44; West Jefferson, $18.89; Jonathan Alder, $19.82; Westfall, $17.35; and Miami Trace, $18.40.

Top-level pay–West Jefferson, $22.97; Madison-Plains, $24.20; London, $24.95; Jonathan Alder, $25.59; Westfall, $20.82; and Miami Trace, $28.70.

About the idea of raising pay rates, Eisler said, “I will be honest and tell you, I don’t know that that fixes all the problems, but it might go part of the way and help us.”

Eisler added that he wants to exhaust all other possible solutions before considering two-tier busing which would involve different start times for grades K-6 versus grades 7-12. Currently, all students have the same start time. He said it probably would not be popular with parents but likely would be more efficient.

Among the creative solutions the district has explored include contacting a private transportation company and seeing if the National Guard personnel could serve as drivers.

About the private transportation company, Eisler said, “They have been indicating of late to us that they don’t have staff right now either.”

About the guardsmen idea, Eisler said it might have been an option in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At this point in time, though, it appears that is not much of a likely possibility,” he said.

Matt Mason, school board president, expressed urgency to finding a solution.

“We’ve got to do something to try to minimized the impact this is having on our families,” he said.

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