District boosts bus driver pay

The Iola school district hopes a boost in bus driver pay will attract more employees and retain those already with the district, amid a nationwide shortage of drivers with a CDL.

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September 15, 2021 - 10:27 AM

A school bus pulls up to Jefferson Elementary School on Wednesday morning. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

With a nationwide shortage of commercially licensed drivers, the Iola school district hopes a boost in pay will entice new bus drivers and encourage existing ones to stay.

The USD 257 school board voted to increase bus driver pay from $14 to $14.50 an hour. 

It can be difficult to evaluate and compare pay for bus drivers, as different districts address payment in different ways, Superintendent Stacey Fager said. 

USD 257, for example, pays most of its drivers for five hours a day, which makes them eligible for benefits like health insurance and KPERS. Others pay for four hours a day and don’t pay for benefits, but pay a higher hourly rate.

The district has about 10 route drivers, and is currently one short.

Nationwide, a shortage of qualified CDL drivers has hurt many areas including food service delivery. Competition for drivers is fierce.

But they also need drivers for activities and as substitutes. Those positions are even more difficult to find.

Administrators, including school principals, have helped by obtaining their CDLs this summer and have been driving buses to activities such as sporting events.

“You can do that for a while, but it takes a toll,” Fager said. “You’re taking away from other things.”

Board members agreed to increase the pay for all bus drivers, both new and existing. They hoped by paying current staff more, it might encourage them to stay.

“It’s not an overwhelming amount, but it’s something I think they will appreciate,” Fager said.

BOARD members also heard results of a community survey that asked patrons how they’d like to see federal COVID relief money spent.

The top three choices were continuing technology upgrades, improving safety and security and additional academic support.

The survey will help the district determine how to prioritize the funding. The money must be spent within three years.

DAMAGE to the football field has been repaired in time for a home game against Wellsvill on Friday, according to Fager and Aaron Cole, the district’s maintenance director.

The field was damaged Aug. 20 when someone drove a vehicle onto the turf, leaving several ruts in new sod. Iola Police submitted a report to the county attorney, who will decide what, if any charges to file.

The football field was replaced entirely over the summer, aided by a $35,000 private donation and other gifts totaling about $5,000 to finish the project.

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