Worsening school bus driver shortage cancels some Holland routes

Ottawa County

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Some Holland school students had to find their own way to class Thursday after a bus driver shortage forced the district to cancel three routes.

The shortage is so severe for Holland Public Schools that the district’s newly hired superintendent is considering getting a commercial driver’s license so she call fill in behind the wheel.

“If I have to, I will. I’m a make-it-happen kind of a person,” said Superintendent Shanie Keelean, who was hired this summer to run the district.

It’s been a challenging first week of school for Keelean. Along with mask mandates and other COVID-19-related issues, a software issue caused confusion about bus schedules among some parents.

Then came Thursday’s announcement. Buses 20 to the high school, 41 to West Elementary, the middle school and the high school, and 5 to the high school were all canceled. Those routes serve about 150 students.

“Many of our families depend on the bus to pick up and drop off their children every day. They may not have alternate transportation, and at a last minute, it’s hard for anybody to adjust their schedule no matter the circumstance,” Keelean said.

Friday may bring more of the same.

“Our attendance is definitely impacted because of these busing issues,” Keelean said.

The driver shortage is a problem years in the making, made worse by the pandemic. And Holland is not alone.

“I don’t think it’s a very new problem. Districts I’ve been working in the last 20 years have always had some difficulties in busing,” Keelean said.

School ride service company Hop Skip Drive recently surveyed districts across the country and found over 78% said the shortage is a problem.

Like with so many businesses seeking to hire workers, it’s an employee’s market.

Dean Transportation, which provides contract bus service to Grand Rapids and several other public schools in Kent and Ottawa County, has increased pay to $21 per hour and offers a $750 signing bonus to attract new drivers.

In Holland, Keelean said the district needs to hire about 10 more drivers to keep pace. District officials are talking about bumping pay as well from between $17 and $20 per hour to between $20 and $25 per hour.

“We need a CDL licensed driver. That takes time and costs money, takes training, so we are paying for that in our district; we have been paying for that in our district,” Keelean said.

The district is also considering making drivers full-time with full benefits and using them in other capacities, like as lunch room or playground monitors, in between morning and afternoon routes.

Changes to routes can be found on the district’s website and Facebook page.

—News 8 web staff contributed to this report.

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