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Bowman County Courthouse
104 1st St NW
Bowman, ND 58623

Cutting bus routes? Bowman Co. schools face tough decision over lack of drivers

January 08, 2016

 

DRIVERS WANTED | Bowman County Schools Superintendent Tony Duletski is calling the lack of bus drivers “desperate.” The school may face cutting a route due to not enough permanent drivers for the routes. (Photo by Bryce Martin/Pioneer)
DRIVERS WANTED | Bowman County Schools Superintendent Tony Duletski is calling the lack of bus drivers “desperate.” The school may face cutting a route due to not enough permanent drivers for the routes. (Photo by Bryce Martin/Pioneer)

By BRYCE MARTIN
Pioneer Editor | bmartin@countrymedia.net

It’s news a working parent wouldn’t want to hear: their student’s school busing route has been eliminated.

But that’s the decision ultimately facing Bowman County Schools due to its lack of bus drivers.

Bowman County Schools Superintendent Tony Duletski repeated the words of a fellow North Dakota administrator to describe the situation: “No drivers? No bus routes.”

But that’s a last resort for the district, Duletski confirmed.

Bowman County owns its multiple school buses, parked in the school’s bus yard following a morning drive. (Photo by Bryce Martin/Pioneer)
Bowman County owns its multiple school buses, parked in the school’s bus yard following a morning drive. (Photo by Bryce Martin/Pioneer)

Of this year’s total 485 students in the Bowman County School District, including Rhame, about 34 percent utilize the school bus, that’s about 165 students.

Following the retirement and subsequent death of beloved, long-time driver Clarence Kitzan last year, the schools have had only had three drivers, along with two substitutes. The school has maintained four routes — to the north, east, south and west — for decades and had actually discussed the idea of adding a fifth. The additional route would be added for the growing amount of students on the outskirts of the city of Bowman and would cut down overall travel time.

“But we cannot find bus drivers,” Duletski said, labeling the situation as one of desperation.

The notion of a fifth route was tabled indefinitely.

Scranton Public Schools faced the same busing situation in the past few years, but made the decision to combine certain bus routes. Duletski said, while the school has looked at that possibility, it’s not exactly feasible for Bowman.

“How do you take a pie in four quadrants and split it into three?” he wondered.

Combining routes would add miles and take much more time to transport the students, who would essentially have to be on the bus as it drives from the north to south or east to west sides of the district.

But he’s not ruling it out if the situation becomes overly dire.

Since the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, administrators have been driving the fourth route, which heads out just north of the county line. Kitzan previously drove the south route, which was taken over by another driver.

Duletski and Tyler Senn, activities director and high school principal, have gotten an earlier start to their workday for months, picking up and dropping off students along the north route. The substitute drivers help when they are able, but are mainly for the regular drivers when they are unavailable.

Teachers have also helped when possible, but other after-school priorities make it difficult.

Consequently, the school has been put into a tough position, and it’s a position facing the entire state, according to Duletski. It was unusual three years ago for administrators to drive buses, but now it’s becoming more common.

“This is somewhat of a crisis,” he said. “We’re not to that level yet, but if we don’t have people start coming forward, we may have to consider cutting a route.”

The school has actively sought at least one driver, preferably two, for a while. Duletski said he’s asked everyone; soliciting help even when he attends crowded social events such as weddings and funerals.

“I’ve been chasing people for the last two years,” he added. But it appears he’s coming close to exhausting his efforts.

The school maintains busing service for its elementary school in Rhame through Gary VanDaele. The Rhame resident runs five buses there plus he operates a shuttle bus that runs between Rhame and Bowman. Though, Duletski said VanDaele is facing the same difficulty trying to find drivers.

The job is relatively an easy one. Duletski said he’s very flexible on what shifts a new driver would want — mornings or evenings — and, at its longest, only takes about an hour to complete the north route. When some students don’t ride the bus, it could take only about 15 minutes.

The first pickup is around 7:10 a.m. and they’re dropped off at the school at about 8 a.m. Buses are warmed up and ready to go about 6:30 in the morning. At 3:45 p.m. school is out, and the students are transported home.

The pay, for a retired person or somebody looking for a part-time job, is reasonable, but “you’re not going to get rich,” he said.

“It’s a job that brings a lot of enjoyment,” he assured. “It’s actually a lot of fun; you get to know those kids.”

A person would need to give up two parts of their day during the week, but they wouldn’t work weekends, holidays and only for nine months each school year.

A commercial driver’s license with a passenger and bus endorsement is required, but the school pays for all the testing, as well as random drug and alcohol screenings.

“A lot of farmers, ranchers have the commercial (license), but it requires an endorsement,” he said. “But you would just need to take a test.”

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