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'It's a statewide issue': St. Louis area school districts dealing with driver shortage

Several school districts have already announced bus route cancellations, with school just one week away.

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — It's an issue impacting schools across the area. 

Several school districts are in need of bus drivers as the upcoming school year is just a week away. 

Right now, St. Louis Public Schools is looking for more drivers and the district temporarily suspended some routes. 

5 On Your Side also learned that the Parkway School District is facing a shortage, too. 

At the end of last school year, the district was short 13 bus drivers every day.

Patty Bedborough, Parkway School District's Chief Financial Officer, said they knew this was a problem that may not go away, so they needed to make some changes.

"Pretty much we've been short bus drivers, since the pandemic," she said.

The district was so short of drivers last year, Bedborough said, that office staff would step in to help.

"We knew by mid-year last year that we needed to do something strategic and better," she said.

That's why they created a Transportation Task Force that was made up of school officials and parents. 

"We came up with a plan that was very multi-faceted," Bedborough said. 

The plan reduced the number of bus routes, so starting in August, elementary students living within a mile of their school will no longer be able to ride the bus.

The district did this by identifying neighborhood schools where it would be safe for students to walk to school.

According to Bedborough, on top of that, they raised the pay for bus drivers and had parents complete a survey to opt-in if their child needed a ride.

"With that information, we were able to completely redo all of our routes and make them as efficient as possible for this upcoming year," she said.

That efficiency is why Bedborough's hopeful they'll be in a good spot for the year, but there's still some spots that need to be filled.

"We are at a good place, we're not phenomenal, it hasn't solved all of our problems. We still will start the year with a few of our office staff driving, but we do have a few drivers in training, and we hope within the first few weeks, they will be able to pass the driving test and be ready to run the routes," she said.

It's not just a problem in Chesterfield though, according to Paul Ziegler with Education Plus.

"It's a statewide issue, I don't believe there's any real region of the state that's not been hit by this," he said.

Ziegler said suburban districts are actually struggling more than rural schools.

"If you look at a big district, they may have 200 routes, and having 200 drivers looks a little different than maybe having six to eight," he said.

While no one has the perfect solution, Ziegler believes, it may be a problem that's around for awhile.

"I would certainly believe it will take a long time, if it ever really comes together to where it's not an issue," he said.

The Wentzville School District is having a job fair on Saturday, Aug. 20 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Liberty High School. Administrations say one of the many positions they are looking to fill is bus drivers. 

The Fox C-6 School District had to eliminate bus routes for the upcoming school year as well.

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