Lack of Benefits Drive Some School Bus Drivers to Other Jobs

Updated: 05/04/2013 9:19 AM KSTP.com By: Beth McDonough

There's a new push to keep as many trained bus drivers at the wheel as possible.

Toward the end of the school year is when at least 30-percent take other jobs to survive the summer months.

Some don't come back at all in the fall.

We're one of only three states in the country that don't give school bus drivers unemployment compensation over the summer.  That break in pay for two months, is driving an effort to change the law.

Five days a week, nine months out of the year, Ed Reynoso trusts a bus driver to take his son Adam to and from school safely.  Driver and Dad are on a first name basis.

It's the familiarity and experience he appreciates.  Every year, Reynoso worries he might not see his son's bus driver again in the fall.  That's why he's speak up, urging lawmakers to rethink unemployment compensation for all 10,000 drivers in the state, "sure as there is snow in the state of Minnesota we're certainly going to try to change the law."

 Anoka County Veteran bus driver Bob Saba said, "We haul the most precious thing to people in the state of Minnesota, their kids and grandkids, and we're not given the credit that we're worthwhile."  

He dreads the same two months every summer:  July and August, because he's got zero dollars coming in, "It's tough, we've got to make our bills, the mortgage won't wait, they still want to get their money on time, have to put money away and make up the difference."

Recently, he's seen a number of trained drivers walk away from the so-called "seasonal" job here, for work in other industries with paychecks guaranteed year-round.

In fact, state records show the retention rate of bus drivers is only between 60-70%. 

State law recognizes drivers as independent contractors for private bus companies and therefore, aren't eligible for unemployment compensation. 

This session, lawmakers have received requests and petitions to reconsider, including Rep. Patrick Garofalo of Farmington.

"The first question is, how are we gonna pay for it, of course public safety is very important for school children but at the end of the day, money doesn't grow on trees, we gotta come up with a way to pay for this," said Garofalo.

On average, school bus drivers make $14-$17 per hour and collect health insurance benefits.