Desperate for Drivers

Moorhead needs 6 more to cover routes

A Moorhead school bus has been beseeching passers-by to apply for one of the district’s eight — now down to six — vacant bus driving jobs. (Photo/Nancy Hanson.)

You’ve probably seen the Moorhead School District’s bright orange bus parked forlornly by the side of the road here and there around the city. Its banner tells an urgent tale: Bus drivers are urgently needed to fill out the routes that will bring the city’s students to school starting Monday, Aug. 29.

“We’ve been moving the bus around town to try to catch potential applicants’ attention,” says Sean Schneider, the district’s new transportation supervisor. “It seems to be working. We’ve already hired two of the eight we’ll be needing this fall, but that leaves six to go.”

Bus drivers have been in short supply not only in Moorhead, but throughout the metro area and across the country. Steve Moore, the local district’s executive director of operations and emergency management, attributes that to a range of factors, from the tight labor market and schedules of fewer than 40 hours a week to the wave of retirements that has thinned the drivers’ ranks.

“Only two of our drivers are under the age of 50,” he says. “Yet it’s ideal for a wide demographic. If you have children in school, you can work the same schedule as they have. Some drivers have driven their own kids.” He adds, “The young kids love that. My best friend’s mother drove our bus when I was young. We all helped her enforce the law.” About half of the district’s drivers are women, he says.

Schneider adds another perspective. “It’s an ideal job for retirees on fixed incomes who may need extra money and benefits. Drivers have a lot of flexibility. They can set their own hours. They don’t have to work nights, weekends or holidays.

“And it’s a tremendous opportunity if you like working with kids. Our drivers are the first people students see on the way to school in the morning and the last they see at night. It’s a huge chance to be a positive force for these kids. The really good drivers know all their kids’ names and all about them.”

Moorhead ran 44 regular bus routes last year. That number will rise to 47 this fall with the changes in school boundaries if the current rides times and bus capacities are maintained. The number of special education routes will increase, too, from nine to 11.

The district’s transportation system includes 72 buses. It operates 17 of them – about 25% — itself, housing the vehicles in the new Operations Center on 30th Avenue South. Three private contractors – Richards Transportation, Schuck Bus Services and Red River Trails — cover the other 75% of the routes. All face the same lack of hands to take the wheel.

Moore concedes the job sometimes has its challenges. “That’s why we have redone the Code of Conduct policy this year to standardize how issues are handled,” he explains. It lays out behavioral offenses and consistent penalties, from email warnings to parents to suspension.

“Everyone has seen an increase in behavioral issues on the bus, just as they have in the classroom,” he points out. “Last year was particularly challenging as everyone returned after Covid. We believe it was a transitional year, and that we’ll all be getting back to normal this year.” He believes it may have been a factor in retaining drivers: “We hope revising the Code of Conduct will reassure them about the district’s leadership and support.”

Moorhead currently provides transportation to children who live more than one mile from their assigned schools. That amounts to 3,700 passengers and more than 5,000 miles a day covering routes from 5 miles north of Georgetown to 7 miles southeast of Sabin. Transportation was also provided for 400 trips in 2021-2022, including 89 trips involving 148 buses. Among those journeys were athletic events, activities and field trips.

Full-time drivers pick up students twice a day in three waves. The elementary circuit comes first, with school start times raised to 7:45 am. High schooners are second; classes begin at Moorhead High at 8:30. Middle school routes are run last, with Horizon Middle School’s bell at 9:15. The same routine follows in the afternoon. The elementary day ends at 2:30; high school, 3:25; and middle school, 4:00. Meanwhile, right buses are assigned throughout the day to shuttle students between MHS and the Career Academy.

“We’re flexible,” Moore emphasizes. “If you only want to drive in the mornings, fine. If you have a buddy who would take the afternoon routes, terrific – we’ll hire them, too. If you want more hours, there are opportunities for additional assignments.”

He and Schneider say lengthening routes and increasing ride times is a last resort. They and their contractors would prefer to simply find more drivers willing to undergo training to earn their Class B licenses with school bus and passenger endorsements – a process that takes about a month, during which they will be paid. The training, a combination of theory and “road and range,” is offered by driver and trainer John Rasmussen.

“Our drivers build amazing relationships with students, even seeing them only in the morning and afternoon,” Schneider stresses. “It’s rewarding. You’re not just interacting with them; you’re removing a barrier to their education. Talk about making a difference! You certainly do. You can have a huge impact.”

To learn more and apply for the open positions, call the school district and any of its contractors: Moorhead Area Public Schools, 218-284-1400. Richards Transportation, 218-233-3404. Schuck Bus Services, 218-233-1402. Red River Trails, 218-236-0300.

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