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Arkansas rural schools still can't find bus drivers

Many districts are combining and shrinking bus routes, which means some kids are picked up earlier and dropped off later.

SEARCY, Ark. — It's a problem we talked about right when school started for districts in the metro area.

Bus drivers, the people that take kids to and from school, have been hard to find. 

Months later and that problem still exists and now it's taking a toll on the rural districts in our state.

It's not just a job that requires you to get behind the wheel and drive, there's so much more that goes into being a bus driver. 

Searcy School District Superintendent Bobby Hart said they're having a hard time filling that seat. 

"They're the first person and the last person that many kids see that represents the school system in a day," he said.

The drivers who step inside the yellow buses every day do much more than press the gas and brakes, according to Executive Director of the Arkansas Rural Education Association Dale Query. 

"When you look at the responsibility and you look at their job, you couldn't have school in rural Arkansas without bus drivers," he said.

They are the only way some kids can even get to the classroom, but Hart said the applicant pool continues to shrink.

"It's harder and harder to harder to find them because it's a part time job and finding part time folks who want to take on the responsibility is increasingly more difficult," he said.

Like many superintendents, Hart is searching for drivers. The Searcy School District had to shrink and combine some of their routes to adapt to the shortage, meaning some kids are picked up earlier and dropped off later. 

"A lot of times kids are used to getting home 30 minutes, 45 minutes after school and sometimes that stretches out to 90 minutes," he said.

Hart said many days teachers and coaches are having to get behind the wheel, but according to Query, that's not unique to Searcy.

"I talked to a superintendent the other day, whose been driving the bus for four years, because they just can't find anybody to fill that spot," he said.

An issue that Query said has always been there, but the pandemic has only made it worse.

"It is a crisis. There really is no solution in sight," he said.

Several school districts are adding incentives to attract more people to the position. 

Offering things like a sign-on bonus and paying for drivers' CDL. 

"It takes a special person to have that kind of care and concern for kids and families," Hart said.

If you or someone you know would be interested in becoming a bus driver, you can apply on any school district's website.

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