UniteGPS – Higher wages, sign-on bonuses, and health benefits are among the most common incentives school districts deploy to attract new bus drivers during today’s unprecedented hiring shortage. Yet what’s ultimately missing from the equation at times is bus driver appreciation.

Bus driver appreciation
Bus driver appreciation will improve retention

Certainly more subjective than clear financial strategies, the term “appreciation” encapsulates how students, faculty, staff, and administration interact with bus drivers on a daily basis. Even for current bus drivers, the general lack of respect is a factor dissuading them from continuing to do the job. 

Take the 2021 bus drivers protests in Stanly County, North Carolina, for example, resulting in retroactive bonuses approved this past January. Bus drivers organized strikes and succeeded in convincing the local board to provide further compensation for their service and personal sacrifices made during the pandemic. 

With many feeling as though the district was taking bus drivers for granted, not only did they push for increased pay but also recognition of their role as essential workers out on the frontline.

How to show bus driver appreciation 

There’s no denying that improved pay is a form of showing gratitude, but communities like the School District of Maple in Wisconsin also prioritize building strong interpersonal relationships with bus personnel. Exemplifying this, the district held a bus driver appreciation day this past February by taking the staff out for breakfast. 

“It’s heartfelt and letting them know they’re appreciated,” said Superintendent Dr. Sara Croney in a recent UniteGPS interview. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard how impressed our staff are with our transportation department, how quickly they get information out to them and letting people know that you’re grateful for them.”

For this school district in Northern Wisconsin by Lake Superior, bus drivers play a huge role in the community with many working for the past 25 years or more. Three bus drivers have even returned to operate buses after retiring, with the school district always ensuring that their salary doesn’t decrease in the process.

“We pay them at their exit rate, not some lower rate, valuing them for the pay that they worked up to and grateful for their experience to come back,” said Dr. Croney.

All about relationships

Echoing this sentiment is Fred Smith, Assistant Superintendent at Boonville R-1 School District in Missouri, who oversees bus transportation. While every person in education plays a vital role, Smith contends that bus drivers play a special part since they are the first and last people students see every day.

Each year he rides on buses with different drivers and notices how relationships seem to make the biggest difference.

“When the kids get on and want to fist pound or hug, and the parents come out and wave, calling the bus driver by their first name; it goes back to those relationships,” said Mr. Smith in a recent interview with UniteGPS. 

“Those kids feel comfortable. Once you have ridden say 10, 12 different routes with different drivers, it’s amazing to see the level of commitment that those folks have on a daily basis. Absolutely, they are special.”