Running on Empty

CRCSD Teetered Over the Brink, There Aren’t Enough Bus Drivers


Gabe Greco

Students get onto a Cedar Rapids Community school bus. Photo by Gabe Greco.

Jessie Koozer and Grace McKinstry

The morning of Oct. 4, Washington High School student Cameron Smeby, ‘22, was rushed to the hospital after being hit by a Cedar Rapids Community School District bus.

Smeby suffered serious injuries, including a broken leg, broken arm, punctured lung, and several broken ribs. Smeby was taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where he spent 19 days and was later transferred to St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids. Smeby is still recovering from the accident but has returned to school.

The bus driver responsible for hitting Smeby, 53-year-old Darla Ogden, ran a red light on Mt. Vernon Road causing the accident. Ogden had been issued multiple traffic violations prior to the accident, four charges of operation without registration, and two charges of failure to obey a traffic control device.

The CRCSD says they complete a background check for every person who gets a job through the district. Ogden passed the check before being hired in 2016, but her infractions date back to 2000. According to the CRCSD, they complete thorough background checks for all district employees, and all bus drivers must go through a driving history check to acquire a Commercial Driver’s License, as well. We reached out to the CRCSD, but they failed to provide information about their background check process before deadline.

It seems that the CRCSD was not swayed by Ogden’s previous violations to not hire her. According to the district, Ogden is currently on administrative leave.

There are also several other requirements that need to be met by bus drivers before being hired by the district.

“Drivers must go through a background check, DOT physical, drug screening, driving history check, and obtain a class B CDL. They also need to pass four written exams and a driving test. After clearing the pre-employment process, all drivers must through our bus driver training with the district which takes four to eight weeks. The training is at no cost to the driver and they’re paid for the training,” said Erica Shelangoski, the training and safety supervisor at the CRCSD.

In addition to the requirements above, bus drivers must have both a passenger and school bus endorsement. According to the Iowa Department of Transportation’s website, to obtain school bus and passenger endorsements a potential driver must pass the CDL School Bus knowledge examination, Passenger knowledge examination, have a pre-trip vehicle inspection, and pass a driving test in a school bus representative of the class of the vehicle they would be operating with their license.

The CRCSD has been facing a shortage of bus drivers, causing them to stop providing school buses for many field trips. This new regulation causes a problem for many teachers and students. According to Darci Jackson, the head of the Department of Transportation and Fleet, the shortage has been an ongoing problem.

“We’ve been experiencing this shortage for over 18 years. But it has turned critical over the past 10 years, becoming worse and worse each year,” said Jackson.

Before this year, the bus driver shortage seemingly did not tamper with student schedules and activities in great depth. However, as the shortage increasingly worsens, so does the convenience of having bus drivers for students and schools in the CRCSD.

One of the main problems is that there will be longer bus rides in the morning and afternoon, which could cause students to arrive to school later than normal. Another complication of the shortage is that field trips taking place within normal route times will not be accommodated by the district due to the lack of bus drivers available. This greatly restricts students in being able to learn in communities other than the classroom environment, which can potentially act as a barrier later on. There are no apparent signs of this ongoing issue becoming resolved any time soon.

This problem, however, is not limited to the CRCSD. Nearby Linn-Mar Community School District is also facing a driver shortage. According to Brian Cruise, the Transportation Manager for LMCSD, they are facing a shortage, but it is not as severe as the one in the CRCSD.

“We currently have what I would call a slight shortage. In short, we’re probably two to three short of ideal staffing levels. But staffing levels to start this school year are probably better than the last several years,” said Cruise.

Linn-Mar currently pays their bus drivers a starting rate of $20 an hour, compared to the CRCSD pay rate of $18.11 an hour, which will stay the same until 2023. The CRCSD’s previous pay rate for the 2015-2018 period was $17.29. The CRCSD raised their wage by 82 cents, even though they were starting to face an even more severe shortage. According to Cruise, Linn-Mar hasn’t raised their wage because they are only facing a slight shortage, but it is something they would consider for the future.

“If the issue got to the point that it affected our ability to provide services, I would say we would look at raising the wage to maintain our ability to hire quality people,” said Cruise.

Cedar Rapids Prairie, known as the College Community School District, is also seemingly facing a similar problem. On July 20, an advertisement was posted on the Prairie website claiming to need part time bus drivers for the upcoming school year. The website lists the starting wage at $17.43, which is even less than what the CRCSD is offering.

The bus driver shortage phenomenon is a severe issue affecting the Cedar Rapids Community School District, as well as other nearby districts. The need for bus drivers has personally hit Washington High School in several ways, one being the incident involving Smeby.