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Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

Shortage could impact activities if drivers not found

A bus driver shortage has been on Weston County School District No. 1’s radar for some time, according to Superintendent Brad LaCroix, and he told the News Letter Journal that the district may have to get creative to address the problem.

According to Transportation Director Troy Allen, the district has had to combine school bus routes in recent years to help cover the area..

“Last year we had to combine four routes into two. At one point, we had 10 or 11 route drivers. Right now, we are facing five drivers for next year,” Allen said. “Our first priority has to be the routes. If we can’t cover the routes, then there will be no activi-
ties drivers.”

Information provided by Allen shows that as of right now there will be eight routes next school year with seven drivers. Last school year
routes were combined to create eight routes with eight drivers while in the 2023-24 school year there were 10 routes with 10 drivers.

“We want to return to having ten routes but don’t have enough drivers to do so. Currently we have six substitute drivers, three of them have full-time jobs in town, two of them live
20 minutes from Newcastle and one lives in town,” Allen said. “Two of the six sub-drivers
are not sure if they will be back in the fall. We are short three route drivers and would like to have at least five more
sub-drivers because of the limited availability of the staff we do have.”

As for the lack of workers, LaCroix was quick to point to potential causes.

“It is a societal thing. More and more people don’t want to work, and more and more people don’t want to get a CDL as it becomes a more stringent certification,” LaCroix said of the issue. “Those two just wreck. It is just the way it works.”

He noted he doesn’t know which of the issues came first, but the combination of both is wreaking havoc on school districts across the nation.

According to LaCroix, the issue is further compounded by the Wyoming Legislature when it decided that Wyoming should base its pay scale for school staff off of other states who were already facing shortages.

“We have inherited the issues that they didn’t want to talk about,” he said. “Ten years ago in South Dakota they understood a teacher shortage. Wyoming is just figuring it out. And now comes the personnel shortage that everyone has. It happened because they wanted to be compared to like kinds of salaries in other states.”

“Twenty years ago we would have never had this conversation. We had a full applicant pool. We never had an issue with numbers,” LaCroix added. “Now, we have to learn to do more with less. If not, we can’t keep peace with the penny scale.”

With activities in mind, LaCroix said there are several options the district could consider if drivers are not found, from using strictly activities drivers to limiting the days that middle school athletes compete. He noted that none of these options are particularly popular with everyone, especially those that limit activities for students.

“Truly, the No. 1 priority is always the education piece, then activities,” he said. “Maybe we don’t do as many middle school activities to cover high school? There is a question.”

He recalled back in the 1970s when middle school sports were only played on Saturday mornings because of a lack of bus drivers and referees, noting that this is something the school district may have to discuss.

Activities drivers are especially hard, he said, because they not only need a CDL, but they also have to be willing to give up quite a bit of time for travel. Most of the time, LaCroix added, those individuals are retirees who can work a split day without benefits and travel on the weekends.

“Way back when, back when Ronnie Mills and Jean Mills and all those others were driving, we had activity drivers, but they would only do certain sports because they knew someone who played,” he said. “We walked away from that because a lot of the time our (route) drivers needed first priority so that they would drive routes.”

This is one thing the school district may have to reexamine as drivers are more limited, he said. It could be a double-edged sword by upsetting route drivers, he added.

Another option that would hopefully entice employees to fill personnel roles is the use of “cluster employees.”

According to LaCroix, Gillette uses what they call “cluster employees” or individuals who fill more than one role in the district. These people not only drive a split shift of bus routes in the morning and afternoon, but they also work as paraprofessionals, maintenance personnel or lunch persons during the day.

“This gives them something else to fill their day so they can get benefits,” he said, noting that this is much more enticing for everyday individuals who need a steady full-time income.

“These are all questions that we are going to have to consider. I know a bunch of people would love to retire and be grandpas and grandmas, but at the same time that is the generation we are relying on to do the day-to-day work in just about any occupation you look at,” LaCroix said.

In the meantime, he said, the school district is going to have to get creative in addressing the issue and he welcomes ideas.


2023 Extracurricular trip numbers

Out-of-town activity trips (sports) 2023-24: 225

Out-of-town field trips (learning) 2023-24: 128

* Allen noted that activity trips will increase moving forward with the addition of two new sports, high school golf and middle school girls’ wrestling.


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