Oconto Falls' struggle to find school bus drivers continues

Limits remain on busing within a mile of school
Warren Bluhm

The bus driver shortage continues for the Oconto Falls School District, where parents continue to show dismay over a decision to stop busing children within a 1-mile radius of school buildings.

Parent Brett Schindel expressed concern at the April 17 school board meeting for students who live along County Road I and are not bused to Oconto Falls Elementary School or the high school down the road.

“County I is dangerous; it’s a highway outside the city limits with no sidewalks,” Schindel said. “My main concern is for kids’ safety. I think the district should pick them up.”

For many years, Oconto Falls provided bus service throughout the district, even though state law does not require busing within 2 miles of a school. A year ago, faced with not enough drivers to staff all of its bus routes, the school board accepted a recommendation to end the service within a mile.

For the first time in several months, Superintendent Dean Hess’ monthly update on the transportation situation included word that one person has stepped forward, a former driver who needs to get his license renewed because he has not driven a school bus for about eight years.

He will be ready to go in September but is not interested in being a regular route driver and only wants to be a substitute, Hess said.

“Even with the 1-mile radius situation, if we have somebody who has to be out, over illness or a medical reason, what happens then is our current supervisor shares those duties with our mechanics,” he said. If two people are out, the bus office is closed and others help man the phones.

“At this point, we’re not seeing what we need for drivers,” Hess said. “I know people are tired of hearing this, but I hope everybody understands it’s not for a lack of effort.”

The district has advertised for drivers, increased compensation, provided signing bonuses and offered paid training. Still, applications have been few and far between, he said.

Board member Sarah Schindel suggested that the district reestablish its transportation committee or create an ad hoc panel to consider all transportation options.