Minidoka buses

Lynn Sumner, bus driver for Minidoka County School District, leaves the district's bus compound in Rupert on Wednesday.

LAURIE WELCH, TIMES-NEWS

RUPERT — The Minidoka County School District’s board is looking at options for a more cost-effective way to operate its transportation department through a contract with a bus service.

The district has struggled to keep bus drivers with some drivers taking on multiple routes.

The board will advertise for bid proposals from bus service companies to see if the switch would make financial sense for the district.

“So far this year our transportation department has not been fully staffed,” Superintendent Ken Cox said. “And three of our four bus mechanics are out driving buses.”

The district has 41 bus routes.

“We are hiring bus drivers and accepting resignations every month,” he said.

Some of the employment challenges come from the low unemployment rate in the area, he said, but it also relates to the fact that it is a part-time job with split shifts.

Lynn Sumner, who has driven for the district for seven years, said the split shifts cause many employees to leave.

“You are always coming and going,” she said.

The district’s board of trustees approved reimbursing a new driver the $75 fee it costs to get their commercial driver’s license as an incentive for the drivers. Bus drivers are being hired at a rate of $13.23 an hour, and the district is looking for a transportation department supervisor that pays $40,000 to $45,000 a year.

“Keeping bus drivers is a huge problem,” said Rick Stimpson board vice chairman. “It is for every district.”

The district’s transportation department supervisor retired last year, prompting the board to look into whether contracting with a bus company would be a viable financial option.

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“No decisions are being made at this point,” he said.

The district is just putting out the advertisement for bids from companies so they can examine the options.

“It would have to make a lot of sense fiscally for us,” Stimpson said. “We feel like this is a really good time to at least look at it.”

Stimpson said the district looked at the option previously in the 1990s but there were fewer busing companies then.

Cox said the goal, if the district decides to contract with a busing company, would be to make sure the district’s current employees are kept. He said the district is also willing to work with part-time district employees like aides to accommodate an earlier work shift, so they can drive a bus route.

The board may also look at implementing a hiring bonus in the future for drivers who stay with the district for a certain length of time.

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