Nearly three years have passed since schools across the country sent students and staff home and closed their doors. The pandemic caused a major disruption in the educational system, and thankfully, classrooms are looking more “normal” than they have in years. 

But a closer look at the entire system reveals a lingering disruption. The Chehalis School District, like many nationwide, continues to face unprecedented challenges trying to find enough workers to fill open jobs in critical positions. “At the surface, things are looking great for staff and students,” says Director of Business and Operations Heather C. Pinkerton. “But the reality is, we can’t find enough employees to drive buses.”

Before the pandemic, the district barely had enough workers to meet basic needs each day. There was a supply of substitute workers to fill the gap when there was a need. When COVID hit, and illness spread, the landscape changed entirely. The workforce shrunk, and it hasn’t returned. The shortage has meant some of the changes put in place during the tough times of the pandemic are going to stay indefinitely. “The Transportation Department may never look the way it used to,” says Pinkerton.      

When schools were ready to welcome students back to the classrooms, parents were excited, but bus drivers were few. Most years, before the pandemic, Chehalis School District would have around 22 bus drivers. Today, we are down to 14.                           

With far fewer drivers, the district implemented a two-tiered transportation schedule which meant different start times for the schools. The staggered start also meant a staggered dismissal – which is all still in place.

“Like many districts nationwide, we have a bus driver shortage which just hasn’t resolved itself,” says Chehalis Superintendent Dr. Christine Moloney. “The first person to greet our students each day is essential – and they are harder and harder to find.”

“In an effort to address this challenge, we’ve had to find different ways of getting the word out about our open and unfilled positions,” says Director of Human Resources Debby Gregory. “We have attended job fairs, posted several banners throughout the town, and even invested in commercial advertising along well traveled driving routes. It’s been especially challenging to find people interested in driving school buses,” Gregory shared, “but our paid (CDL) training program stands ready for new candidates and bus driver jobs are posted year-round for potential job seekers moving into our community or perhaps a newly retired individual or veteran looking for a part-time position.”

The Chehalis School District, in conjunction with the Centralia/Chehalis Pupil Transportation Cooperative, also seeks individuals to serve as substitute drivers. For more information about the qualification and conditions of employment, visit chehalisschools.org/jobs/.