Issue:

The bus driver shortage is having an impact on Ripon Area School District (RASD) athletics, from making student athletes late to games to even canceling some contests.

According to Superintendent Mary Whitrock, students arrive at school expecting to leave, but then wait for a late bus, which causes them to arrive late for a game or match and cuts the amount of time they have to prepare.

She said the driver shortage has also resulted in increased staff time to organize and reorganize transportation and reschedule events.

“We do everything we can to get every event in,” Whitrock said. “However, if there are limited buses available, the higher the level (e.g., varsity) takes priority over lower levels (junior varsity and middle school).”

Background:

Lamers Bus Lines did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but did speak to the Commonwealth at the beginning of the school year.

Lamers doesn’t have drivers to fill every route and it doesn’t have enough substitute drivers or drivers for special trips, such as athletic events or field trips, Lamers Bus Lines Regional Manager Alex Eisch said last month.

To try to overcome the problem, Lamers is getting creative to recruit new drivers, and has office and maintenance staff filling in while it scrambles for employees, Eisch noted.

“The big question is: Are more people leaving bus driving? Or are more routes becoming available?” he said. “The biggest challenge for getting new people in the door is the fear of driving a large vehicle and anxiety about interacting with children.”

Status:

Whitrock said bus drivers are driving sports routes ahead of regular after school routes, then traveling back to the away location to pick up athletes.

“In order to be back for the after school route, the athletes need to leave earlier in the afternoon thus missing actual class time,” she said. “Moving up the athletic bus time to allow the bus to drop off athletes at the site and then get back to Ripon to do a route.”

RASD is coordinating with district staff to drive students in school vehicles and asking parents to help drive, Whitrock noted.

She added that the Ripon School Board approved a driver stipend at its Oct. 4 work session to compensate drivers of district-owned vehicles, many of which are either coaches or parents.

What’s next?

The bus driver shortage impacts after-school activities, as well as daily routes before and after school, according to the superintendent.

She said the district is problem-solving and working with Lamers to find creative solutions, while looking to streamline and be “as efficient as possible with the dedicated team of drivers.”

“We are grateful for their commitment to safely transport our students,” Whitrock said. “Ripon and our state is not alone in this significant bus driver shortage. It is important for RASD to be transparent and clear that this is a challenge that our community is facing right now too, just as so many other communities are.”

Whitrock added that RASD and Lamers continue to do everything they can to provide transportation.

“We are so incredibly grateful to the parents who have stepped up to lend a helping hand,” she said. “This is yet another example of how tremendously supportive our families are. We don’t take them for granted and are so appreciative of their help.”

The superintendent encourages anyone looking for “excellent pay and benefits,” who is a safe driver and enjoys kids, to contact Lamers Bus Lines to apply for a job on the RASD bussing team.

Is there an issue you want us to update?

If you’re wondering about something that was in the news but doesn’t have a resolution, send your idea to:

Email: news@riponpress.com

Phone: 920-748-3017

Mail: 303 Watson St., PO Box 262, Ripon, WI 54971

Written By

Joe Schulz served as the reporter of the Green Laker in 2019 and 2020, before being hired as a reporter for the Commonwealth in October 2020. He is from Oshkosh and graduated from UW-Oshkosh in December with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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