Oconto Falls still working to attract bus drivers

Superintendent puts in stint as substitute driver
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

The Oconto Falls School Board boosted its compensation package for school bus drivers again May 13 in the latest effort to recruit drivers.

The shortage of drivers has plagued Oconto Falls and other school districts for years. The board moved last month to discontinue bus service to students within two miles of school because of the lack of available drivers.

Superintendent Dean Hess opened his monthly administrator’s report to the board with a reminder that people are welcome to apply for the job.

“Since the last meeting I had an opportunity to drive bus for one week, and I just want to let people know that we have a great training program,” Hess said. “Even if you don’t have a CDL (commercial driver license), we do have in-house training to pay people to earn their CDL.”

Later in the meeting, the board accepted a recommendation to increase driver compensation from $26.88 per hour and 46 cents a mile to $30 and 50 cents, respectively. Field trip, special education and cocurricular drivers pay was increased from $17.20 per hour and 32 cents a mile to $18 an hour and 36 cents per mile.

“Our efforts on this, as I think you can fully understand I would think, is recruiting and retaining, doing everything we can to make sure they’re not going out the back door faster than they’re coming in the front door,” Hess said.

The board also approved adjustments to bus driver bonuses and a “loyalty bonus” for years on the job, ranging from $500 for driving school bus for five years to $1,750 for drivers who have stayed for 30 years.

“We’re being pretty aggressive. Obviously we’re balancing it with what we can sustain ongoing with our budget, but we’re trying to pull out all the stops,” Hess said. “We want to go back away from the two-mile at some point if we can, but we need more drivers to do that.”

The board’s transportation committee approved the recommendation to the full board. Board member Carrie Hill said the adjustments bring Oconto Falls toward the top of comparable pay scales.

“It’s been a hot topic in the community,” Hill said, noting that a TV station recently did a feature story about the recruitment and retention effort. “This has been a problem for years … I’ve been on the transportation committee for a year and we’ve been talking about this the whole time.”