A dearth of school bus drivers is a problem Hastings Area School System is wrestling with this school year – and the district is not alone.
“This is a nationwide problem,” Superintendent Dan Remenap told the board of education during its meeting Monday night. “It’s not just Barry County. It’s not just Michigan. It’s not just Hastings. All districts are struggling.”
James Vreudge, director of transportation for Hastings schools, said Wednesday his district could use four school bus drivers right now. Currently, two of his drivers are sick and one is off on a medical leave.
“I've had to borrow subs from other schools and combine routes,” said Vreudge, who is filling in as a substitute driver, as well.
Hastings has 16 regular routes and, lately, it has taken a lot of creative thinking to keep the system running smoothly, he said.
Monday, school board member Valerie Slaughter mentioned the need for more bus drivers and Remenap echoed her request.
“I don’t recall this being an issue in 20 years of education,” he said, speculating that the reason for the lack of drivers is the good economy – the availability of other, full-time jobs.
Vreudge agreed. In addition, qualifications for these part-time posts are extensive.
Plus, the job involves far more than just driving a bus, Remenap noted.
“You’re managing kids and chaos” for two hours early in the morning and then two hours in the midday, he said.
The shortage of drivers this year has meant delays and students waiting longer for their buses, which has had a corresponding impact on the staff, who’ve had to jump in and supervise groups of students who had to wait longer for their bus. For example, three sick bus drivers and a sick substitute driver created a challenge for the school district recently, the superintendent noted.
“When things like that happen … I really appreciate the teamwork mentality of our staff,” Remenap said. “Everyone dives in and helps.”
Vreudge is planning to retire this year, board president Luke Haywood said, and that will further complicate the challenges of managing the transportation department.
But, Wednesday, given the staff shortage, Vreudge expressed some doubt about retirement.
In other business, Louis Wierenga Jr. updated fellow board membrs on the building trades class, which is handling the construction of a new storage building at Star Elementary School.
Wierenga also reminded the board that the career and technical education program will be working on site preparation at the southeastern corner of the high school for a new agricultural facility.
The school is currently seeking bids for tree and stump removal, excavation to level the ground, service drive preparation, a parking lot and appropriate water run-off for the facility. Interested contractors who hope to bid on the work are required to make a site visit at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20. Local bidders are encouraged to attend, Wierenga said.
The board also learned that work to repair the bleachers is underway. The project was made possible by a gift from the Baum Family Foundation.
“It's awesome,” Dale Krueger, director of maintenance and grounds, said Wednesday, about all the work going on to improve facilities and grounds.
Last year, he said, it felt like they were constantly “putting out fires.” Now they are not only maintaining facilities and grounds, they are making significant improvements.
“It's a whole different world,” he said.
In other action, the board:
• Approved the minutes of student disciplinary hearings that took place in closed sessions, as requested, Sept. 11. Several students, who were not named, were disciplined for breaking into school property as well as an attempted theft of firearms from a local store. One of the students may return to school Jan. 6, 2020, if all the terms of suspension are met. Two of the students were expelled. Two other students may petition for reinstatement no sooner than July 1, 2020. In a separate matter, a student who was expelled for making a threat to a school building or property may petition for reinstatement no sooner than July 1, 2020.
• Accepted a donation of $800 from Al & Pete's Sports Shop for the Students in Need fund.
• Accepted a donation of record boards that have been installed at Baum Stadium at Johnson Field, courtesy of the Oom and Duits families.
• Reviewed four bids for landscape maintenance and chose the low bid of $73,920 from Leaping Lizards of Hastings.
• Reviewed three bids for snow plowing from three companies and chose the low bid of $64,800 from Leaping Lizards of Hastings. The agreement is for one year, with a two-year extension based on satisfactory performance.
• Accepted resignations from Marcia Bergakker, social worker at Southeastern Elementary; Ashley Frye, general food service employee at Central Elementary; Casey Gergen, special education teacher at the high school; and Stephen Laubaugh, district co-web master.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, in the middle school commons area. The public is welcome to attend.