Superintendent gets bus driver’s license to help during driver shortage

ST. FRANCIS, Minn. — A superintendent in Minnesota was in a similar place as many districts in the country — dealing with a shortage of bus drivers.

So she stepped up and got behind the wheel to get her own bus driver’s license to make sure her students could get to class.

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Beth Giese, superintendent at St. Francis Area Schools, had to cancel a bus route twice recently.

“There is nothing worse than making that call and saying, ‘We can’t come get your children today,’” Giese told KARE.

The district with its 60 routes is down about a dozen drivers.

“I thought, this is something really small that I could do. So I went and got my bus license to help fix the problem,” Giese told KARE.

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Don’t forget to be kind to your bus drivers. Congratulations Supt Giese! #saintspride ❤️🚌

Posted by St. Francis Area Schools on Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Giese is now an emergency driver for her district. But this isn’t the first time Giese got out from behind her desk and climbed on a bus. She also is an education assistant on buses.

She has also inspired others, like the district’s director of business services, to get his license.

Giese’s licensing also has people in the community trying to fill the void. The route specialist said at least seven people have called about becoming bus drivers and they’ve already hired one since Giese started her routes, KARE reported.

St. Francis Area Schools isn’t the only school that has a unique way to get drivers for its bus fleet.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker called up the National Guard earlier this month to drive students to school to help offset the shortage of drivers.

A nationwide survey released in early September said half of the student-transportation coordinators across the country said they were seeing a “severe” or “desperate” need for drivers, NPR reported.

Why is there a shortage this year?

Some attribute the shortage to COVID-19 furloughs that happened last year, which caused some people to decide to retire at that time. Pay rates were also a challenge, with average pay at $35,421 annually according to Salary.com and NPR.

Prospective and experienced drivers were also unable to get their road tests or update their licenses because motor vehicles were either closed or had limited availability, NPR reported.