By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With the start of school just days away, almost every school district in the Twin Cities is facing a school bus driver shortage.

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First Student, which runs 20 percent of all school buses in the state, said it needs 100 drivers as soon as possible.

But before parents panic, First Student said do not worry. The company said children will get to school on time and buses won’t be overcrowded.

First Student said students will be driven by qualified administrators or it will even bring qualified drivers in from other states.

In the meantime, the First Student is trying to get the word out that it’s hiring.

School bus drivers earn up to $18.50 an hour, and it can be a full-time job.

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“If you want to drive, you could work up to forty hours a week driving a school bus and we also have a ton of extra side-business charters,” Troy Schreifels said.

The current driver shortage is in large part due to the improving economy, Schreifels said, adding that at the height of the recession, bus companies had a lot of applicants.

“I’ve had airline pilots on furlough, I’ve had people in the technology field that were laid off — this job is a good filler for those people,” he said.

Now drivers are leaving for other jobs. Applicants are not paid during training, which usually lasts two weeks. Some of the training is in a classroom, and some training is in a parking lot with an instructor riding shotgun.

As for dealing with kids, there’s training on that too.

“The high school kids, they are usually asleep when they get on, so they are pretty easy,” Schreifels said. “The middle school kids, they have a lot of energy, and they’re the biggest challenge. The little kids all they do is break your heart because they are easy. They are smiling and they will do anything you ask them to do.”

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After their training school, bus drivers have to pass four separate tests, as well as a criminal background check.

Esme Murphy