Would a $4,000 bonus entice people to become a school bus driver? That’s a question a bus company in Montana is hoping to answer as it deals with an unprecedented driver shortage.

According to a report in the Helena Independent Record, the manager of the company that provides busing for the Helena district said she has been in the business 18 years and has never seen anything like it. With that in mind, the company is offering a $4,000 sign-on bonus, in addition to paid training, flexible hours and full benefits.

In Grand Forks, a bus driver shortage became acutely obvious this week when the school district announced school bus service in the city will be suspended until more drivers can be found. The last-minute announcement – coming Monday, two days before the start of school – left parents scrambling to figure out transportation for their kids.

Fortunately, an alternative was found: The city offered the use of its bus services to help in the interim. Details were being worked out on the eve of the first day of school, but Mayor Brandon Bochenski said the solution likely will be a combination of city drivers driving school and city buses. Monitors will be available if students are on board.

Nice work. It’s a good temporary solution to what literally is a crisis, and one that is not unique to Grand Forks.

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On the same day news of Grand Forks’ suspended school bus service was reverberating throughout the community, CBS news and other media outlets were reporting on the national shortage.

“It’s clearly becoming a problem everywhere,” the CBS report declared.

“I’ll keep saying it until the cows come home. We need more drivers,” a school representative from Florida told CBS. In Virginia, a school representative implored parents to drive students to school.

In Grand Forks, some bus drivers unexpectedly announced retirements in recent days, and some simply opted to not come to a pre-school year organizational meeting.

The root of the problem is likely a combination of issues.

Pay is one. According to the website Salary.com, some drivers nationally are paid as low as $11 per hour, although the range does reach into the $20s per hour. In Grand Forks, Dietrich Bus Service – the district’s transportation provider – pays $30 for the first hour and $16 for each hour after that. But since it’s not a full-time job, lack of hours and competitive pay elsewhere might limit applicants.

Rising pay in other industries certainly must be playing a role, too. Hourly pay for part-time work at some restaurants and retailers is reaching well past the $15 range.

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to blame, too. Bus drivers often are older, and at higher risk for the illness.

Pay obviously will have to be increased to keep pace with other industries that compete for the same workers. And competitive sign-on bonuses that compete with those advertised in other industries will have to be instituted. We’ll all end up paying, but it’s the price required for reliable transportation for our schoolchildren.

While Grand Forks’ bus driver shortage is not unique to our community, it’s a crisis nonetheless – one that will require money, above all else, before it can be alleviated.