(Photo by Dean Curtis)

Last fall, a shortage of bus drivers led Springfield Public Schools to reduce bus services in the midst of the school year. The decision left about 1,500 students in need of a different way to get to school starting on Nov. 8. 

Thanks to a hike in starting pay for bus drivers, SPS Deputy Superintendent John Mulford said at Tuesday’s SPS school board meeting, the bus schedule should return to normal on March 21.

“We will plan to start and reimplement that as we return for the fourth quarter,” Mulford told the school board, which in December voted to increase starting pay for bus drivers to $20 an hour.

Mulford said that the move led to an increase in applicants, and that the necessary number of drivers should be fully trained in time to roll out on March 21, while adding that the start date remains tentative. 

Currently, there are 108 trained bus drivers, and another four in training, Mulford said. The system needs 112 trained drivers to return to pre-Nov. 8 services. 

“As long as we don’t lose anybody and the four that are in training complete, we’re gonna be there,” he said. “We have others that have been hired and are in the process of being onboarded, and so we’re going to continue to build as many as we can there and be ready to go not only for the fourth quarter but also for next school year.”

Mulford said the school board will get a final report on March 8 regarding whether or not the full fleet is ready to resume services to start the fourth quarter on March 21.

The 112 drivers do not include transportation for the SPS Choice Programs, which has in the past included bus transit to several magnet schools. Because of the bus driver shortage, Choice Programs transportation was not offered at the start of the 2021-2022 school year, Mulford said.

Beyond the four drivers currently in training, he said there are several potential drivers who are in the process of onboarding. It’s too early in the process to project that they will join the group of trained and in-training bus drivers, he said, because they still must pass a “pretty rigorous” physical as required by the Missouri Department of Transportation. But once SPS has 116 trained drivers, Mulford said, Choice Program transportation can resume. The number had been 117, but the transportation department was able to reduce the number of routes, Mulford said. 

“If we can get the drivers hired to provide that, we will,” he told the board.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson