EAST TROY, Wis. — In an era where school districts and school bus companies around the country are facing significant driver shortages, East Troy is an exception.
In this village of 5,600, located 35 miles southwest of Milwaukee, there is no school bus driver shortage. East Troy School District transportation director Rachel Neubauer said they will start the school year having all routes covered.
So what’s the secret to success?
Neubauer credits a small town sense of community as a major factor. In addition, she said having the school bus operation owned and operated by the East Troy School District rather than an outside company makes a big difference.
Several years back when the district was struggling to find drivers, they began marketing directly to those who know the importance of bus service the best — parents, grandparents and family members of kids in the district.
“Because we are district-owned, we have been able to appeal to our parents and guardians, sending out an email blast saying we need drivers if we are going to continue to transport your kids to school and we have had great luck in having some of those parents stepping up,” said Neubauer.
Many answered the call. Neubauer said about half of the district’s 35 bus and van drivers are parents or family members of current students.
Jessica Larsen is one parent who stepped up to the plate. Larsen has two kids enrolled in the East Troy School District. She didn’t want to see bus service impacted, so she traded a minivan for a big yellow bus.
Larsen said she gets to see firsthand the impact bus drivers get to make on the community.
“I love being a part of the school and getting to know all the students that my kids are going to school with and it’s great fun,” Larsen said. “I really enjoy it.”
It is something Neubauer and district leadership also appreciate. While she knows the parent-centric approach may not work everywhere, Neubauer said she is thrilled that it has been successful in East Troy.
“I was at a convention and a lot of places are struggling to fill those gaps,” Neubauer said. “They have had to triple up routes, and that is rough.”
While data for 2023 has not yet been released, a 2022 study by the student ride share company HopSkipDrive found 88% of school bus operators around the country reported being affected by a driver shortage.