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The School Bus Driver Shortage Hits Rockford

The pandemic has presented many challenges for schools, but now they’re seeing a new one: bus driver shortages.

In a recent nationwide survey, half of responding districts described their driver shortage as “severe” or “desperate.” That lack of transportation is leaving many students without a ride to school, including in Rockford.

Rockford Public Schools says they’ve been forced to cut up to a dozen bus routes in September. It’s rotating which routes are removed, so the same children aren’t affected every day, but around 1,400 students will be without a ride at any point during the school week, according to Chief Operations Officer Mike Phillips.

“What we're also trying to do is if a route is impacted that day," he explains, "it’s about nine days before that route would be impacted again.”

Phillips says a majority of Rockford students will be touched by the driver shortage, but not every school will be affected.

“We wanted to impact the schools that had attendance challenges in the past the least,” said Phillips.

That means schools like Kennedy Middle School and Lewis Lemon Elementary, which have had lower attendance rates over the past few years, won’t have routes removed.

He says some students could have a bus in the morning but not the afternoon, so it’s important families go online to check the schedule.

The problem could affect athletics too. Phillips says they’re trying to push back those buses until later in the afternoon so they can be covered.

To cover every route, they’ll need to hire at least 12 more drivers, otherwise, some students may be without a bus in October as well.

Bus driver position starting pay is $15.30 an hour, including a $3,000 signing bonus.