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Improving economy blamed for statewide school bus driver shortage

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As the new school year starts, a number of Minnesota school districts are struggling to find enough bus drivers.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that both the Duluth and Proctor district are experiencing shortages, and says that many drivers work fewer than 20 hours per week and get no benefits. Proctor superintendent John Engelking said an increase in full-time jobs in the strengthening economy is making the bus driver job less attractive.

"You just don't get a lot of people who want to step up and do this," Engelking said.

The districts are also having trouble finding substitute drivers. Tim Sworsky, the Duluth school district's senior human resources manager, said managers from the transportation department often have to fill in when the regular drivers can't make it to work.

The problem is not limited to Duluth.

Earlier this summer, KARE 11 reported the First Student bus company, which serves a number of Minnesota school districts, offered incentives in its efforts to recruit drivers, including a $1,000 signing bonus.

In central Minnesota, the St Cloud Times reports "a slight pinch" in the number of available bus drivers. There are four bus operators that serve the St. Cloud school district and they're not operating at full driver capacity.

The newspaper notes some of those operators are relying on mechanics and office workers to fill the void behind the wheel.

"The bus driver shortage has really impacted everyone," said Tim Schubert, general manager for Trobec’s Bus Services. "By no means is the shortage over."

The Chaska Herald noted some parents with children attending Eastern Carver County Schools got a message from the transportation department last week when school started, which said bus delays were connected to the shortage of drivers.

In anticipation, they brought in "a number of experienced drivers" from St. Paul, and they practiced their routes last week, the release explained.

"Nevertheless, they are unfamiliar with our area and some got lost this morning or missed stops. The shortage of drivers means we have a shortage of substitutes," it added.

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