School districts to start year without enough bus drivers

Bus Drivers

MADISON, Wis. — Five thousand dollars extra to be a school bus driver may sound like a lot, but you know what they say about desperate times.   

That sign-on bonus isn’t going to be enough to solve the bus driver shortage by the start of the school year.

Badger Bus supplies drivers for the Madison Metro School District and the Verona Area School District. Co-owner Johns Meier says to get back to pre-pandemic levels they’d need to hire as many as 50 drivers.

“It’s a lot,” Meier admits.

Badger Bus and other companies have been going to extreme measures to recruit drivers, including offering that $5000 bonus, which they’ve never done in the company’s 100-plus year history.

The driver shortage is forcing districts to change plans.  Verona schools is staggering the start and end of the school day so drivers have more time to make an extra trip.

“What that allows us to do is essentially eliminate the need for about 1/3 of our buses and bus drivers,” says Chad Wiese, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services with VASD.

MMSD families could also see adjustments.

“There will be more people on the buses and that will come together over the next couple weeks, then we’ll look at routes we can combine,” says Tim LeMonds, MMSD spokesperson.

Badger Bus and districts and splitting the cost of the $5000 signing bonus.

“(Districts) certainly understand this is a tremendous challenge,” says Meier.

In the meantime, Badger Bus is also training other staff members to drive buses to fill some of the gaps.

Badger Bus pays between $18 and $20/hr.