Across the Flathead Valley, industry-wide bus driver shortages are disrupting the ability of students to attend fall sports competitions, resulting in game cancellations and rescheduling.
Unable to find drivers, Glacier High School canceled September 3 soccer games for boys and girls in Missoula. Glaciers Director of Operations Mark Dennehy has rescheduled games against Big Sky for September 14 and Sentinel for October 9.
“This is the first time in over 20 years that I have done this that we have to cancel or reschedule games” due to a driver shortage, said Dennehy.
To avoid recurring cancellations, schools in various districts are adopting a temporary transportation system where parents are the drivers. Recently, parents drove Glacier student golfers to their September 10 game in Libby.
That same day, a fleet of parents drove the Flathead High School junior college football team to their game in Helena. In the absence of available drivers, the parents teamed up to transport the 40 players in their 10 privately insured vehicles in order to avoid the cancellation of the game.
Unable to find bus drivers for the boys and girls soccer games against Butte on September 9, Flathead High School Director of Activities Bryce Wilson arranged to welcome Butte to the house. To avoid future cancellations, Wilson predicts that more games will have to take place on the weekend. From now on, Flathead football teams are scheduled to travel to Butte on October 16.
“The problem is we don’t have backup drivers,” Wilson said.
Full-time drivers are responsible for transporting students to and from school. Without backup drivers, teams have to wait for lead drivers to complete routes, which often takes too long.
The Kalispell Public School District (KPS) has 14 buses and currently its own drivers cover around 50% of the routes, while the district also contracts with four separate transport companies. According to Kalispell Superintendent Micah Hill, that’s still not enough.
Similar to KPS, the Polson School District is struggling to hire enough drivers to transport students and is currently operating with a 30% driver shortfall this year. District Transportation Manager Mike Anderson has tried to fill in the gaps by using teachers and administrators as business drivers.
“Students have to get to school and events, but we don’t have enough drivers,” Anderson said. “We can adjust the scheduled times a bit, but we don’t have room to consolidate the routes, and as this shortage affects the entire sector, we cannot ask the charter companies for help. “
Polson plans to implement a switch incentive program, whereby it will pay its quarterly switch bonuses up to $ 200. District communications director Scott Boen believes additional substitutes will provide support to drivers if they have to take a sick day.
“For the sake of our students, I sincerely hope that more applicants will be interested in our open bus driver positions,” said Boen.