Lakeland School Bus Driver Shortage


Hadley West, Opinion Editor

“Sorry for the interruption; please release the girl’s soccer team.”

On Oct. 6, the Lakeland girl’s soccer team was released extra early from class in order to drive to Timberlake High School. 

Not for a game, but to pick up the Timberlake junior varsity and varsity volleyball teams. Both teams loaded and filled every seat on the bus.

Not only did the long drive feel longer with all these girls filling the bus, but our games were at different times, making the girl’s soccer team have to wait an hour and a half for their game if they did not have a ride home from their parents. 

At practice, it was decided that the girl’s soccer team would carpool from the game, and if a student couldn’t find a parent or teammates’ parent to take them home, then they couldn’t to the game. 

The Lakeland School District 272 is having an increasingly pressing issue with buses because of a lack of bus drivers. 

The coaches told us a couple of days before the game so that we had time to prepare, and in the end, it was not that bad. We thought there were going to be four teams, but it ended up only being three. 

Whitnee Johnson, a coach for the LHS girl’s soccer team, was on the trip to St. Maries with the teams. “If that happens again, we can make it work no problem; at least we go to play our game.”

The LHS girl’s soccer team and the THS girl’s volleyball team are not the only ones that have had to share a bus this year. The cross-country teams from Priest River and Lakeland had to share to go to Pine Hearst. 

Alexander Brown, a runner on the LHS cross country team, thought that the Priest River team joining them was a minor inconvenience. The bus had enough space, and their team was so respectful and quiet that their presence was not even sensed. 

“The two teams didn’t add any stress to the bus driver. Though, he was up until one a.m. the night before driving Coeur d’Alene kids around, then had to be up early to drive us around,” he said. 

 Bus drivers like this are having their schedules stretched to the max because of this issue. 

David Esparza, a bus driver for the Lakeland school district, has been working as a bus driver for about eight months now and joined to help his community. He is a retired paramedic and fire chief from LA County in Northern California, where he worked for nearly 30 years. 

“A lack of bus drivers means I work more hours than I originally anticipated, and they ask me to work more… I really think if they paid more, they would attract more bus drivers.”

The LHS school district is taking steps to help this problem. 

Jessica Dehnert has been the director of transportation for the Lakeland School District since December 2021 and has worked for the transportation department since January 2019. 

To move in the right direction, the district is reaching out to previous drivers that moved on to other jobs; HR posts help wanted ads in various places, Jessica made a post on Facebook on a community page, and last year, they offered a hiring and retention bonus, handed out flyers, and hung banners out on buses at LHS. 

“We are trying to get more people at the door to train, but it is hard to get people to work,” Denhert said.  

The Assistant Director/ Scheduler and Denhert make the decisions with the Athletic Director to do things like put multiple teams on a bus. Doing this has helped in the past when there was a shortage of drivers because they would rather have students be able to make it to their games than have to cancel them. 

Bus drivers have a lot of responsibilities and should be given the utmost respect for what they do for this district and community. 

The stress of finding a bus to get extracurriculars transported can be a stress for all parties, but Neff, the LHS athletic director, is taking on a lot of this criticism. More people are complaining about this issue because they don’t understand that the district has a lack of bus drivers. 

Neff does not know if he has a bus for a team until right before the day of the event, which makes scheduling communication difficult. 

“People do not like to be inconvenienced, making the issue worse,” Neff said. 

Fortunately, the District agreed to purchase eight-passenger vans that would allow coaches to drive their team themselves;  they could not find any to buy, so there will not be any until next year. 

Sharing a bus is a minor inconvenience for everyone, but it is what the district must do due to the current lack of bus drivers. Have patience with the transportation and athletic departments; they are doing all they can to solve this problem.