Kids across Colorado are starting to head back to school this week. However, for students in one Weld County district, getting to the classroom will be a challenge.
That's because District RE-3J is facing a bus driver shortage ahead of the new school year, which starts Wednesday. The district educates around 2,500 students in schools around Keenesburg, Lochbuie and Hudson.
A booming economy combined with a high demand for drivers with the necessary CDL license has put RE-3J at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting drivers, Superintendent Greg Rabenhorst.
"For the last several years we have experienced a shortage of drivers as we compete with the oil and gas industry and other companies that require CDL drivers. But this year it has been particularly difficult to find drivers through the summer," Rabenhorst said.
Weld County's RE-3J is not alone. Large districts, such as Jeffco Public Schools, and smaller districts alike are vying for the attention of candidates from a shrinking pool of drivers as the economy improves.
Limits on school funding prevent RE-3J from being competitive in the slim market, Rabenhorst said. The majority of Colorado's oil and gas is developed in Weld County.
"That's basically why we can't compete with the private sector market. Oil and gas companies and other construction companies and whoever requires those CDL licenses, they can just pay more money — and significantly more money," he said.
District RE-3J hopes to have all the drivers they need to fill their bus routes. But if they fall short, Rabenhorst said busses will be fuller and drivers will have to make multiple trips to pick up every kid. Smaller busses not requiring a CDL-licensed driver would be used too.
"We've actually had four additional applicants (recently). So I think yes, it's good that we've have the word out," Rabenhorst said.