Mesa School District experiencing bus driver shortage

It's back to school time for many children around the Valley, but officials with the Mesa School District are left scrambling, seven days before the first day of school.

At issue is the need for more school bus drivers. The school has buses and bus routes set up to transport students to school, but not enough drivers.

"We've seen a decrease in applicants, so the shortage is definitely hurting us," said Jeanne Vandemarck, Director of Transportation with the Mesa School District.

For years, the district has seen the number of bus drivers go down, and it has continued to create issues for administrators working in transportation.

The shortage tends to have a ripple effect, as not having enough drivers means when one thing goes wrong, they fall even shorter.

"If a route runs late because a bus has a problem, and that bus driver is covering for another part of another route, than that makes that route later," said Vandemarck.

A late route could lead to students not making it to class on time, something officials work hard to keep from happening. In addition, the shortage takes a toll on the budget

"This District knows that, and so we have to work with what we have," said Vandemarck. "Somewhere, there has to be a give, and that's with overtime."

Seven days before the start of another school year, the District is facing the challenge of getting routes covered. Filling the 45 open spots could prevent long routes for students, possible late arrivals, and last minute changes to drivers.

"If you have a positive attitude, if you like children, if you like to drive, this is the job for you." said Vandemarck.

Even with the district dealing with the shortage, and school officials left scrambling for drivers a week before school, there has been no rush on the training of newcomers. They all undergo the same four weeks of training that includes driving skills and safety procedures, like students getting on and off the bus.

Drivers are put through prep classes such as first aid and CPR training, as well as 11 days of driving courses and a final test, before they obtain the license.

"It can be rewarding," said Hector Riemersma, who has been driving school buses for five years. As for the pay, it starts at $13.15 per hour, according to Mesa Public Schools officials, and goes up based on experience.