Brighton 27J schools get creative with school bus driver shortage and other staffing issues

COVID-19 labor shortages impact many area schools
brighton 27j bus driver shortage.jpg
Posted at 5:07 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 20:49:53-04

BRIGHTON, Colo. -- Employers across the country and around the world continue their struggle to find employees as the lingering COVID-related labor shortage is impacting almost every industry.

As a skilled mechanic, Rob Koehler has a knack for getting things back up and running.

“We work on the entire fleet,” Koehler said of keeping vehicles in the Brighton 27J School District, a suburb of Denver, on the road. “We repair the buses.”

But these days, he’s not only fixing buses – he’s driving them, too.

“You have to get your CDL,” Koehler said. “It’s a big rig, for sure.”

Like many school districts, Brighton 27J is facing a critical school bus driver shortage, just another lingering issue related to the ongoing pandemic.

“Covid’s kind of messed a lot of things up recently,” said a freshman student on Koehler’s route.

Koehler and other mechanics are pulling double-duty as the district tries to keep the buses rolling and the kids on-time.

“You’re never late for school,” said another student.

“We have a waiting list for kids to get back on a bus,” Koehler said. “It’s about 500 kids.”

And it’s a labor shortage that goes beyond bus drivers.

“There are multiple pain points,” said Michael Clow, chief human resources officer for Brighton 27J. “We’re seeing shortages in multiple areas including substitutes, our lunch support workers who feed our kids every day. We could use about a dozen pre-school paras (paraprofessionals) tomorrow. It’s a tough situation for us right now.”

What 27J does have going for it is a 4-day week – which is perhaps more enticing to some workers.

“I hope people come back to work,” Koehler said. “We are 20 drivers short right now.”

“It’s about 20% of our driving staff,” Clow said.

For now, 27J, like many districts across the country, is scraping by – one moonlighting bus driver at a time.

“You know, we have to take care of the kids,” Koehler said.

“We have six full-time mechanics,” Clow said. “Two days ago – all six of them were driving. They’re heroes in my mind.”