[Madison Moore | WOUB]

A nationwide substitute bus driver shortage leaves Alexander Local Schools looking for help

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ALBANY, Ohio (WOUB) – Alexander Local Schools and school districts nationwide are struggling to get enough substitute bus drivers behind the wheel. 

With only two full-time substitute bus drivers, Alexander – a district that routes 25 buses twice a day – is looking for more.

Substitute bus driver shortages have been climbing since the start of the pandemic – but factors like retirement and resignation have played a key role in the shortage. 

This year, Alexander was able to increase the hourly wage for substitute drivers from $14 to $18.

Superintendent Will Hampton said, “We had to do that to be more competitive. Local districts around us were paying significantly more.”

“When we were attempting to compete with local schools such as Athens, Trimble and, based on my understanding, Vinton County, whose wage has since increased to $100 per day, the district simply needs to be somewhere around a $1 hourly difference,” said Transportation Supervisor Dan Phillips. 

Asked if wages would ever exceed $18, Hampton responded, “At the moment, no, but that’s very likely if everyone else has to change as well.”

The district now has three substitute drivers in training in the hopes that more personnel can help with the shortage.

One of the full-time substitute bus drivers, Joe Smith, said he drives a different route every day.

“Some days it has been 5 a.m., first in the morning phone calls that a driver is sick and then I jump on it. And then there’s times when I get a, ‘Hey, you got three days in advance, learn this route,’ and I have to be on it type of phone calls,” said Smith. 

Smith has children who attend Alexander, so when he learned that there was a substitute driver shortage, he applied for a position. 

“I thought, what a better retirement job than driving a school bus?” said Smith. 

A row of school busses from the back.
[Madison Moore | WOUB]
Another Alexander parent and first-year bus driver, Carly Jordan, said more substitutes means the district does not have to pull people from other key staff positions.

“The more the merrier. Obviously, we want our mechanics not to have to go in there and drive when they should be in the garage helping if a bus breaks down or something,” said Jordan. 

One of those bus mechanics is Shane Thompson. He has been employed by Alexander for over 20 years. 

He recently just filled in for a full-time driver who was out sick. 

“I usually fill in for a full-time bus driver 10 to 15 times a year,” said Thompson. 

Student safety is a top priority for him and he prefers to be in the garage — just in case a packed school bus breaks down on a route. 

“That way it is better so we don’t have to worry about the kids sitting on the bus for an hour while we’re out driving on another route, and the children have to wait on us to get another bus to them,” Thompson said. 

The bus driving staff, according to Phillips, who has worked with Alexander for more than 20 years, is a devoted group. 

“We have some drivers that are retiring in the fall,” said Phillips. “So we need to fill those. We’d like to always carry about three substitute bus drivers,” he said.

A commercial driver’s license is required in order to apply to be a substitute driver for Alexander Local Schools.

Anyone interested in applying can go to https://www.alexanderschools.org/Employment/2