NewsMissoula County


Frenchtown schools dealing with bus driver shortage

Frenchtown School Bus
Posted at 4:27 PM, Jun 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-30 18:37:33-04

FRENCHTOWN - We're not even halfway through summer, but school administrators already have major concerns for the fall.

Some of those concerns involve bus drivers — or the lack thereof.

The company HopSkipDrive recently surveyed a variety of people, ranging from superintendents to transportation officials, and found 94% reported a staffing shortage at their school. That's not to mention the bus driver shortage, where 88% of respondents said it is the biggest transportation issue they face, marking a 10% increase from last year.

The survey was done nationwide, but it highlights problems here at home too, including in Frenchtown, where school leaders are trying to solve the problem before school starts.

It feels like the problems of the COVID-19 pandemic should be behind us. But they’re not, and things like bus driver shortages are issues schools are still facing head-on. Frenchtown School District Transportation Director Jime Benitez told MTN News they are down six regular bus drivers for a school with 600 bus riders.


“And our 11 routes are packed because as we’ve had to eliminate some of the routes, we have not eliminated student stops,” Benitez said.

Frenchtown once had 16 regular bus drivers and if empty driver seats aren't filled, bus routes and after school activities could be on the chopping block. "Unfortunately, there's certain restrictions that we might have to enforce due to the lack of staffing,” Benitez told MTN News.

School may be months away, but panic and planning will soon be Frenchtown parents’ reality. “When I have to think about having those conversations with parents, it's heartbreaking. I don't want to have to do that,” Benitez said.

Benitez added this is the worst part of her job, both with the school and as a parent.

"Some of the things we're considering may affect kids who live closer to the school. They might lose their bussing because we can't get to everybody, and the closer you are to school, the more likely you can walk to school,” Benitez said.

Frenchtown School Bus

She has kids of her own — at both the high school and elementary schools. The two facilities are on either side of Interstate 90. Fewer bus routes could mean sending her kids and others in the district across railroad tracks, frontage roads, and the interstate — on foot.

“So, I get it, I get how harrowing it is,” Benitez noted.

One way or another, kids need to be in school. In a recent survey, two-thirds of respondents noted access to transportation has affected student attendance.

“We have very important services that we offer at school that kids might not get otherwise,” Benitez said. “For one, their education, for two, it may even be food. We need to get these kids the services that they need.”

While at a standstill, Benitez is banking on the community getting the wheels rolling. Will people step forward in enough time to be trained drivers by August? Benitez hopes so. “If we don't get these kids to school it affects everybody on every level."

You can find information and applications for bus driving here. With a slew of benefits, Benitez says bus driving is a flexible, fulfilling job for those interested.