Local School Districts Dealing With Bus Driver Shortage

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BENTONVILLE (KFSM) -- Bentonville Public Schools has sweetened its offer to new school bus drivers in hopes of filling several open positions.

A driver shortage has affected school districts across the country, including Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley.

At a school board meeting on Tuesday night (Sept. 13), members approved a $1 an hour base pay increase, bringing the starting wage for a driver to $15.53 an hour.

A $50 a month bonus for perfect attendance every month was also approved, said Chris DeWitt, director of transportation.

DeWitt said he's struggling to keep up, especially after a new high school opened in August. He said 10 positions need to be filled as soon as possible.

"We are utilizing everybody we have on staff with a CDL (commercial drivers license)," DeWitt said. "Whether that's shop or office."

The problem isn't new for one of Arkansas' largest school districts. It's estimated that Bentonville Public Schools' more than 150 school buses travel about 1.4 million miles every year.

"We've asked teachers that want to come back and drive that have CDLs," DeWitt said. "We've had four jump in."

Springdale Public Schools has experienced the same dilemma. Transportation director Dana Samples said the district needs drivers for three open routes. A morning and afternoon route would net a person about $70 a day.

Fort Smith Director of Transportation, Jeff Tomlin, said the improving economy has him looking for drivers as well, particularly substitute bus drivers.

"It's a difficult role to step into," DeWitt said. "It's early morning hours followed by a five hour break, and then an additional two and a half, or three hours in the afternoon. It's a difficult job."