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How bus driver shortages are impacting central Iowa schools

Johnston and Des Moines Public School are in need of bus drivers. The districts are offering incentives for drivers but say the community can help too.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Besides record-high COVID-19 activity, schools across the nation and right here in Iowa continue to face bus driver shortages, impacting students' day-to-day lives.

As the surge in omicron cases continues, schools are working with what they have when it comes to getting kids to and from classes every day.

Phil Roeder, the Communications Director for Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS), worries the lack of staff is causing a chain of problems.

"Currently, we have about 66 bus drivers that are on our staff. Typically, we want that to be up around 100, or a little more," Roeder said. "So we're operating at about two-thirds of the number of drivers that we would normally like to have on staff. It does slow things down. And so we've had several routes that have been running late."

Des Moines Public School isn't alone.

At Johnston Community School District, Communications Director Lynn Meadows says the school understands buses not being on time is a serious problem, and that they are working towards fixing it.

"We're getting kids to school late in the morning or getting them home late in the evening. And you know, that's not acceptable, especially getting to school late, we are taking away from their time in the classroom. And so that's not acceptable. We continue to look for solutions," Meadows said.

One of the solutions both school districts shared is enticing drivers with more attractive benefits. According to Meadows, that includes a significant pay raise at Johnston.

"Starting pay for a bus driver now is $24.05. With top tier rate being $30 an hour, there's also a signing bonus of up to $3,000," said Meadows.

Despite sign-on bonuses, Roeder wants the community to know they can help get drivers in buses faster, too.

"Be more cognizant and helpful in terms of trying to stem the tide of the pandemic to get vaccinated, continue to wear a mask," Roeder said. 

Data as of Jan. 9 from the Iowa Department of Public Health says the state's positivity rate is just under 20% for the last 14 days. As of Jan. 4, the IDPH reports Polk County's rate as 16.7%. 

The Polk County Health Department posted on Facebook that the county's rate as of Monday is 28.38%.  

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