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Bus driver shortage weighs on drivers, school districts: 'It does weigh on your mental health'

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Posted at 6:04 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 20:02:37-04

MILWAUKEE — The bus driver shortage lingers as thousands of students in southeastern Wisconsin head back to school.

The shortage is creating a domino effect on all those involved.

From the upset parents, students late to classes, and the districts and drivers working to pick up the slack - the operation of getting kids to and from school has become much more difficult, and companies are doing all they can to get drivers behind the wheel.

With the click of a seat belt and a turn of a key, bus driver Dawn Roberts is off. She's one of dozens of drivers working amid a national shortage of drivers.

“It does weigh on your mental health, even for the strongest of us,” Roberts said.

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Fewer drivers means more students to pick up.

“I enjoy getting my kids to school on time, but when we have to veer off and do other things as far as the other routes, it causes us to be late,” Roberts explained.

She said the added routes and late pickup times are often beyond her control. But still, she deals with upset parents nonetheless.

“I had an incident where a parent didn’t have her kids on the bus stop on time, and my bus window got shattered,” Roberts said.

On Wednesday, students in Racine Unified and Kenosha Unified school districts went back for day one.

On Thursday, roughly 40,000 students from Milwaukee Public schools will be back in class. The district said it’s doing what it can but still needs about 80 more bus drivers to function normally.

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“We’re really doing more with less and it frustrates families, and it frustrates drivers,” said David Solik-Fifarek, Director of Business and Transportation Services at MPS.

Because of the workload, Roberts is closing the door on her bus driving career. She’s put in her two weeks' notice.

“It’s just a matter of people looking at us like we’re human, because we are human,” Roberts said.

And she’s not alone.

“We’ve had three in the last week that have come in and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,'” said Diane Henke of Lamers Bus Lines.

Lamers Bus Lines is operating with roughly 70 drivers running routes, down significantly from a full staff of 120 drivers. Like many of its competitors, it struggles to fill roles, even as it offers north of $20 in hourly pay.

“If we’re going to keep the quality of people that we get, we need to make things better for them,” Henke said.

MPS said if you are looking for a job, you are strongly encouraged to apply to any of the bus companies in the area.

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