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?