Published Monday, June 10, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun
In the past two to three years, almost every newspaper without fail as had an ad looking for new bus drivers for the Northern Lights School District. There just aren’t enough bus drivers to go around, it seems.
This has begun to put a strain on the transportation director Matt Richter, as well as the other members of the transportation office. With contractors constantly stepping down and employees hard to find, Richter and his co-workers have had to step up to get kids to school.
“I told the board we were going to hit the wall about a year ago,” Richter said. “And then we did.”
The NLSD has over a 100 routes that kids get picked up on their way to school. However Matt Richter himself has filled in 50 fifty times in the past year for contractors who have dropped out at the last minute.
“It’s frustrating because it means I can’t get much else done. My main job is the director of transportation but sometimes I’m barely able to do my job because of this,” Richter said.
This has also begun to put a strain on the parents of the kids. Richter and his staff aren’t always enough to fill in the shoes of every bus driver who drops out, meaning the parents have to get their kids to school, despite whatever they need to get done that day.
However, the workers just aren’t there, Richter says.
“The problem is this area is so strapped for employees,” Richter said. “We have lots of jobs, but not enough employees to fill them.”
The difficulty in finding a new driver is two fold. For starters, it’s tough to find someone who has a licence to drive a bus. Then it’s even more challenging to get them to work, as the pay is no longer as good as it was.
“The government cut off our fuel funding, so suddenly we had to pay for our own fuel. That doesn’t leave much money to give to the drivers,” explained Richter.
In a recent hunt for a new bus driver, it took Richter between four to five months to find a new driver in Bonnyville.
“It’s not just us though; it’s every other industry as well,” Richter said. “When my in-laws from Europe were here, they couldn’t believe all the help wanted signs they saw in store windows.”
Richter also has growing concerned that the downward trend might continue into the next school year. During the summer he plans to look for new employees, but who knows if he’ll find any.
“Come September 1st, it’ll be very interesting,” Richter said.