SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There have been 17 days when buses have been late to a Sioux Falls school since late September, a school official said.

A bus driver shortage that has existed since at least 2019 has caused those tardy buses.

School Bus Inc. has the contract to transport Sioux Falls School District students including for extracurricular activities.

SBI’s vice president of business development Steve Hey said in an Aug. 20, 2020, KELOLAND News story that buses travel about 5,000 miles to transport roughly 9,000 students each school day. Sioux Falls School District business manager Todd Vik said about 83 buses are used this school year.

Vik said since about late September, the bus driver shortage has caused delays and changes in regular morning and afternoon bus routes. Those problems have only increased since then.

Late bus days

  • Days with 5 or less late buses: 0
  • Days with 6 to 10 late buses: 3
  • Days with +10 late buses: 17

Since late September/early October, there has not been one day when there has been five or fewer late buses, Vik said.

“They may be 20 drivers short on some days,” Vik said. Back in September, it started with one to five drivers out on certain days.

But the driver shortage is not SBI’s fault or the school district’s fault, said DeeAnn Konrad, the SFSD communications coordinator. It’s a result of labor shortage in many job areas across the state, she said.

So when a driver isn’t able to take kids to school, the district has had other drivers take on a route. That means students are going to be late to an elementary school and late at a middle school, Vik said.

Sometimes it can be 40 to 45 minutes late to school. The elementary school day starts at about 8 a.m. and the middle school day starts at about 9 a.m.

Vik used an example of four buses traveling to one elementary school. If one of those buses isn’t running for the day, “you only have three buses when you need four.”

So one bus does an extra route, which means students could be 40 minutes late to school, Vik said.

The SFSD will send a message to a student’s adult that the bus is running 40 minutes late, Vik said.

The other buses will run a regular route to the elementary school but four buses are still needed for middle school routes. So, one bus immediately leaves the elementary school after dropping students off to pick up its route and an extra route for middle school. “And those kids don’t arrive on time,” Vik said.

The school district rotates schools and routes so that one school and route are not always impacted.

Konrad said in 1992, the school district adopted a cost-saving measure to have the same buses transport both elementary and middle school students. This works because middle schools start later than elementary schools.

The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) shared results of a school district bus survey in August. The survey indicated 77% of the surveyed districts in the Midwest said they had a shortage of bus drivers. The results weren’t favorable for other regions as 79% reported a shortage in the northeast, 66% in the south and 80% in the west.

SBI said in an Oct. 4 KELOLAND News story that starting pay is $19 an hour. There’s potential to get a $1,000 sign-on bonus.

Konrad said she wouldn’t describe the school bus driver situation as a crisis yet because SBI and the school district haven’t exhausted all possible options.

South Dakota law allows schools to charge a nominal fee to transport students who live within five miles of the student’s school. So, based on that law, schools would be required to provide transportation for students who live within the district more than five miles from the school.

“Most people don’t know we are providing transportation beyond what South Dakota law requires,” Konrad said.

“We’re not dangling that like a threat,” she said. But it’s important to remember as the school district and SBI continue to work out transportation issues.