Before students can write their first essay of the year or compete in their first basketball game, the responsibility of transportation has to be figured out. With thousands of students attending school throughout the lake, the role of the bus driver is critical. Unfortunately, this role is currently understaffed. Here’s a look at how each district is fairing.

Before students can write their first essay of the year or compete in their first basketball game, the responsibility of transportation has to be figured out. With thousands of students attending school throughout the lake, the role of the bus driver is critical. Unfortunately, this role is currently understaffed. Here’s a look at how each district is fairing.

Camdenton R-III transportation director Gary Cuendet says that currently, the district has 71 full-time drivers. Even so, he considers the district to be in a shortage. Ideally, Cuendet says he would like to hire 5-6 more drivers. With numerous trips through the academic season, including sports and education events, the overnight and early morning driving hours can stack up. Cuendet says these trips are especially difficult to staff with the difficult hours, on top of the normal school routes.

Cuendet attributes much of the difficulty in staffing to the good economy seen throughout the country. With so many jobs opening up, he says the competition to get dedicated workers is high. He says that Camdenton is the best paying bus driving service in the area and provides high-quality training for anyone, even those who have never driven a bus before.

At School of the Osage, Superintendent Dr. Laura Nelson says they have 23 full-time bus drivers available with nine substitute drivers as well. Nelson did not state whether or not the school was in a shortage of drivers, but did say that they are fortunate to have their dedicated driving staff and are always looking for more team members. However, she also says the applicant list of new drivers has lessened over the last few years.

Nelson says that the bus drivers in their school district are incredibly important. With winter weather coming soon, she is confident that the team is ready to tackle the snow and ice and feeling their fleet is tuned and maintained to a high level.

“The school doors open at the bus stop,” Nelson said. “School bus drivers are the first educators many of our students see each morning and the last ones they see at the end of the day. Other drivers on the road often do not appreciate the hard work that goes into getting our students transported.”

Clare Herriman, Eldon Director of Transportation, says the district currently staffs 35 drivers. She says that, like most districts, they are always in need of more substitute drivers. However, she is confident that the team is ready to tackle the winter season and can handle their driving load.

Over the last few years, Herriman says that the school has not had issues finding new applicants. She says they have been fortunate with the retention of the experienced drivers they already have. Last year, she says they hired a full-time sub school bus driver who stays busy with bus routes and activity trips.

“Actually, in my opinion we could really use another full time sub driver on several days throughout the school year,” Herriman said.

Rounding out the lake, Kyle Middleton, Transportation Director for Versailles, says their district has 27 drivers. Due to a shortage of drivers, the district was forced to reduce a route early this year. Middleton says it has been difficult for the school to staff new drivers in recent years and that they are always accepting new applicants.

“School bus driving is such a rewarding experience, I wish more people would give it a chance,” Middleton said.

Those who rely on district’s to provide transportation to and from classes, can rest assured knowing school officials are doing everything they can to ensure safety comes first for students.

In fact, all lake area districts placed with nearly a perfect score. Camdenton had 78 bus inspections with a perfect score of 100%, as did School of the Osage with all 34 buses passing with no problems. Morgan County R-II in Versailles ranked at the top with 28 of 28 buses passing without any citations. Climax Springs and Macks Creek, with a total of

17 buses between the two districts each scored 100%. Eldon had one bus of 30 that was cited but not taken out of service. 

A total of 11,958 school buses across the state of Missouri were inspected by Missouri State Highway Patrol personnel during the 2019 program. Of all buses inspected, 89.3% were approved by inspection personnel with no defective items noted during inspection.
During the annual school bus inspection program, buses found to have no defective items are rated as "approved.” Buses having one or more defective items which do not constitute an immediate danger are rated as "defective.”

Buses with a defective item which constitutes an immediate danger are rated as "out-of-service.” Buses rated as "defective" may continue to be operated for the purpose of transporting students until repair is made. School districts are allowed 10 days following initial inspection to repair identified defects before being re-inspected by Highway Patrol motor vehicle inspection personnel. Buses rated as "out-of-service" must be repaired, re-inspected, and then placed back into service by Highway Patrol motor vehicle inspection personnel prior to transporting students. Buses not presented for re-inspection within the required 10-day period are reported to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Statewide 2019 annual school bus inspection results are as follows:
Buses rated as "approved" upon initial inspection -- 10,672
Buses rated as "defective" upon initial inspection -- 962
Buses rated as "out-of-service" upon initial inspection -- 324

A total of 261 Missouri school districts earned the Patrol’s Total Fleet Excellence Award, obtaining an approval rating of 90% or higher with no buses placed out-of-service. During the 2019-2020 school year, 5,540 buses in these award-winning fleets are eligible to display the Total Fleet Excellence sticker in the lower corner of the first window on the passenger-entry side of the bus.