School wants to deploy National Guard, Police, and Firefighters for bus driver shortage

An Illinois school district’s woes with their school bus transportation contractor may result in National Guardsmen, police and firefighters acting as bus drivers in the interim.

The school district -known as McLean County Unit 5- reports a shortage of staff by their contracted bus service, First Student, which is based out of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Although there has been a national shortage of bus drivers among contracting companies since 2015, the First Student has been having trouble supplying enough drivers for Unit 5, often forcing parents to shuffle their kids to school themselves when enough drivers call in sick.

According to Pantagraph, Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said his district needs drivers with Commercial Driver’s Licenses that have already passed drug and background checks to step in quickly.

“Hopefully there can be some executive action that will allow firemen, police officers and members of the National Guard to solve this problem short term. We need them to be a part of our fleet,” Daniel said.

The current shortage seems to run into the same odds as the proposed temporary fix- the regulations requiring CDL training, background checks and drug screenings is expensive and time consuming- something that slows the process.

Daniel says that while not all firemen and police have CDLs, they are already cleared for background checks and drug tests.

“There are some members of the National Guard (with CDLs) that have to drive large semis,” said Daniel.

While over 44 applicants have currently been collected by First Student since Tuesday, it is unclear how many of the applicants would actually be hired.

“We’re seeing incremental improvement,” said First Student spokesman. “Our application numbers have increased, we have 10 going through training right now and we’ve hired four drivers in the last two weeks.”

Daniel will be meeting with Republican Representative Dan Brady and Regional Office of Education Superintendent Mark Jontry to see if the hiring process can be expedited, possibly with the governor’s office approving an alternative driver’s certification process.

“I’m open to any options,” he said. “This would be a short-term solution as we gather more drivers and our provider ramps up on the hiring process.”

While other districts are having staffing issues, no other Units report having as bad a shortage as Unit 5.

First Student is currently offering a hiring bonus of $2,000. Applicants must be:

  • 21 years of age
  • In possession of a valid driver’s license for at least three years
  • Able to pass a physical performance test, background check and drug screening

Starting pay is $14 per hour with five paid holidays and paid CDL training. Those interested in applying should call First Student at 309-557-4287.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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