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Minnesota bus drivers earn day of thanks

FAIRMONT — Each day, hundreds of thousands of Minnesota children hop on the bus to get to school and back home again. But it’s not the bus that gets them where they need to go. It’s the driver.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has declared today “School Bus Driver Appreciation Day” in Minnesota. It couldn’t come at a more opportune moment.

The Minnesota School Bus Operators Association and the Minnesota Association of Pupil Transportation say the state is facing its most significant school bus driver shortage in history. At a press conference today in Golden Valley, the groups will shine a spotlight on the crisis, noting ways school districts are recruiting and retaining drivers.

Curt Luetgers, manager of Minnesota Motor Bus in Fairmont, offered one suggestion for students, parents, educators and the public: “Make sure to appreciate or thank your bus driver.”

The bus drivers groups say school districts across the state will make an effort today to help celebrate, by passing out student-made thank you cards, or providing food and beverages to bus drivers.

The I-35 bridge in Minneapolis will be lit up in yellow to help recognize the day.

“School bus drivers can be powerful mentors, as they often book-end a student’s school day and make a positive influence on that child’s educational experience,” said Minnesota School Bus Operators Association President Garrett Regan. “School bus driving is an important but often unacknowledged profession, and we are thankful that Gov. Walz has declared Feb. 26 as School Bus Driver Appreciation Day in Minnesota to help give bus drivers the recognition they deserve.”

“Nearly every school district in the state is facing a bus driver shortage and is seeking professionals who are driven to serve in these fulfilling, flexible jobs,” said Minnesota Association of Pupil Transportation President John Thomas. “We hope that Minnesotans help us recognize school bus drivers in their communities on Feb. 26, and that more people consider this rewarding and in-demand career.”

The groups say a lack of drivers often requires other district employees — such as mechanics or administrators — to be pulled out of those roles to drive, or can result in fewer or canceled field trips and after-school activities.

The groups also note that school buses promote student safety. They say that thanks to rigorous safety standards for vehicles and drivers, students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely if they take the school bus instead of traveling by car.

In addition, they say the school bus driving industry is the largest form of mass transit in Minnesota, and it has reduced its environmental impact by using alternative fuels and retrofitting diesel engines.

The Minnesota School Bus Operators Association represents Minnesota’s privately owned school bus contractors that provide more than 60 percent of the school buses used to transport Minnesota children to and from school and school-related activities.

Founded in 1975, the Minnesota Association for Pupil Transportation is a nonprofit association of school transportation professionals and industry leaders who promote safe and efficient student transportation within the state of Minnesota.

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