New CDL regulations bring headaches for schools

Photo from Pixabay School buses need drivers, who are becoming fewer as licensing requirements get more strict.

New federal requirements for obtaining a commercial driver’s license have meant headaches for some school districts trying to find school bus drivers.

Larry Derr, the superintendent at Glenburn, is driving one school bus route and a principal is driving the other route. One new bus driver previously did not work out, so administrators have been doing double duty.

It has not been uncommon in smaller districts for administrators or teachers to also drive a school bus route.

Derr said he obtained his own commercial driver’s license about 12 years ago “to put myself in a better position to get a job.”

“When I got the principal job in 2010, that was one of the requirements, that you had to get your CDL,” said Derr, who was hired as principal and later became the school district superintendent.

Derr said school bus drivers who had their CDL licenses before February 2022 were grandfathered in and are not required to meet strenuous new requirements, but it still might be a challenge to find drivers.

“The hours are goofy,” Derr said of the two hours of work in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.

Many drivers are also nearing retirement age, which means they might have plans to stop driving.

Other people who might be interested in driving a school bus are likely to be reluctant because of the new requirements for getting a commercial driver’s license.

“They’re not going to want to spend $6,000 to go and get trained,” said Derr.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration now requires that entry-level drivers of commercial motor vehicles complete training that is compliant with the new regulations before they test for a CDL license. The new regulations are intended to enhance safety, but some school administrators said they aren’t realistic for small school districts like theirs.

The training can be prohibitively expensive and a prospective bus driver is unlikely to want to undergo that training for a part-time job.

One option some school districts have utilized is to get certified as a training site for new school bus drivers, which can help cut down on some of the costs.

The North Dakota Safety Council, a nonprofit, offers coursework but has chosen not to offer behind-the-wheel instruction, which also can be quite expensive, said Terry Weaver, traffic safety program manager for the safety council in Bismarck.

Velva School Superintendent Dave Schoch said the North Dakota Safety Council programming is a tremendous help.

He said Velva has been able to fill its bus routes this year. In part, that is because some bus drivers are employed by other employers locally who allow their workers to leave during the day to drive a bus route.

Amy Harris, the transportation director for the Kenmare School District, said Kenmare is fortunate to have filled its school bus routes with a number of seasoned bus drivers who were grandfathered in and didn’t need to meet new requirements for obtaining a CDL license. Kenmare also has teachers who are taking courses so they will be able to drive mini-buses.

Still, Harris said, Kenmare could possibly face challenges that other districts have seen in filling school bus routes if some of the current drivers decide to retire.

Pam Stroklund, career and technical education director for the Minot Public Schools, said the district plans to offer a CDL training program for its high school students at the Workforce Academy that will be located at the new North Minot High School campus. Students expressed interest in taking the CDL program, she said. Eventually, the CDL classes might also be offered to others in the community. She said the Workforce Academy should open next year.


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