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Bus Driver Shortage Making Sioux Falls Kids Late for School—Noem Proposes Spending on Tourism

School Bus Inc. is starting drivers at $19.50 an hour and offering sign-on bonuses of up to $4,000 for qualified drivers. Even that pretty good pay isn’t drawing all the drivers SBI needs, and that driver shortage is making kids late and hurting kids’ education:

…the driver shortage is not SBI’s fault or the school district’s fault, said DeeAnn Konrad, the SFSD communications coordinator. It’s a result of labor shortage in many job areas across the state, she said.

So when a driver isn’t able to take kids to school, the district has had other drivers take on a route. That means students are going to be late to an elementary school and late at a middle school, [Sioux Falls School District business manager Todd] Vik said.

Sometimes it can be 40 to 45 minutes late to school [Rae Yost, “Tardy School Bus Days Add Up in Sioux Falls District,” KELO-TV, 2021.11.18].

I don’t know what magic market figure SBI would have to pay above $19 an hour to lose is workforce gap. But suppose another $6 an hour would fill enough driver seats to substantially reduce these harmful bus tardies. With an 83-bus fleet, raising driver wages $6 an hour for an inconvenient six-hour split shift would require spending about $3,000 more a day, or about $540,000 over a 180-day school year.

The state, which has a constitutional obligation to ensure every child gets free, fair, and adequate education, could justify spending coronavirus relief dollars to address a worker shortage exacerbated by the pandemic. But according to documents presented to the Legislature’s Covid Relief Liaison Committee, Governor Kristi Noem wants to spend $35 million out of $974 million the state is receiving from the American Rescue Plan Act on tourism marketing.

$35 million could cover more than raises or bonuses to bus drivers; $35 million could pay 1,080 drivers $30 an hour for an entire school year of six-hour split shifts.

Get kids to school on time, or get Kristi and Mount Rushmore on national TV—where would you place your priority?

8 Comments

  1. Richard Schriever 2021-11-19

    When I was driving a school bus, the pay was not hourly, but per route, and at the places I drove (near SF) is now being advertised @ $45/route. That’s each time one drives the route – or potentially twice per day. The rate would work out to a variation of between $35- $100/hr. (depending on the length of the route and any service or maintenance/cleaning of the vehicle being required) Activity driving was at an hourly rate though – typically advertised today @$18/hr. It may be that SBI is a little on the low end as to pay around SF. Per route pay is also how delivery places, like FEDEX Ground, or Omni Care Pharmacy operators pay their drivers, so a really efficient driver can make a much better per/hr. rate to what SBI is offering.

  2. Scott Ehrisman 2021-11-19

    I think in Brandon they get around $30-$40 an hour and justify it because it is part-time work with no benefits. So yes, SF could pay more, but like substitutes they want to go on the cheap while paying administrators like oil company executives. I work with several parents who have kids the age that need to ride bus, and they say it has been a complete nightmare. The school expects parents to be late to work to drive the kids to school if the bus doesn’t show up or they will be marked absent unexcused. Glad I don’t have kids.

  3. O 2021-11-19

    Bus driving is a great lesson in opportunity costs of a job. The hourly rate seems great, but as Cory points out, that is for six hours between two shifts of driving (would that be a 6:00 am to 6:00 pm day?). That is a long day, for which a driver is not being paid the entire time, BUT a driver cannot easily fill that down time with another job (school bus uber?). That jobs has too high of an opportunity cost, it excludes better overall opportunities for employment. I believe some districts have been having some success putting this together with other in-district employment fo fill that time gap with needed district work/employment.

    Just to jump into larger education discussion: the fact that many education jobs are not year-round makes many look at them as justified for paying less (which is of course true to an extent); however, finding meaningful, professional employment for the remaining days of “summer vacation” is impossible. That is the opportunity cost to teaching — something that is all too often dismissed.

  4. John 2021-11-19

    Marketing, er propaganda, is a racket. Tesla never marketed its way to being a $1.1 trillion dollar company.
    We should suspect that tourism marketing is nothing more than washing state funds for campaign donations.

  5. Mark Anderson 2021-11-19

    Putting Trump on Mt. Rushmore will take alot of change, just conning the conned will take millions.

  6. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-11-19

    I try not to get out much in Fall River County on accounta the hateful “patriots” that menace me for having Biden Harris 2020 stickers on my truck (four pr*cks and counting; I carry crowbars and a chainsaw for such happy confrontations), but I saw an enormous banner on the maintenance building/bus yard at the Hot Springs Public Schools property on University Avenue two weeks ago proudly declaring $15.75 an hour and $1000 signing bonus.
    I’ve been told it’s UnChristian and goshdarn mean of me to visit the sins of the fathers upon their children, but if I had to drive a school bus I might drive right by the little darlings. Oops, did I type this outloud?

  7. Porter Lansing 2021-11-19

    The light rail trains and city bus system in Denver Metro is having the same problem.

    But, just like in Sioux Falls, the pay isn’t the reason.

    It’s finding drivers that can pass the marijuana test.

  8. Gwen 2021-11-19

    Well if we keep the children uneducated there will be more positions for them in the “deadend” jobs of tourism…

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