Bus driver shortage continues to plague Brainerd School District

Officials at Brainerd Public Schools and Reichert Bus Co. are working to combat the issue with hiring bonuses for new drivers and the consolidation of routes.

School bus driver performing a pre-check on their bus before driving.
With temperatures at -17 degrees below zero Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, a Reichert bus driver performs a safety pre-check on their bus before leaving the Baxter bus yard.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Between one and three bus routes are typically not running each day at Brainerd Public Schools, but officials are working on various solutions and want the community’s help.

Transportation Director Fran Jensvold and Reichert Bus Vice President Kevra Cherne updated School Board members on the situation Monday, Jan. 30.

The shortage of bus drivers is not something new, nor is it unique to Brainerd.

Reichert, the company that provides buses and drivers to the district, has been working to hire more drivers over the past couple of school years. Cherne told the board Monday one driver had just quit the night before, and four are currently out with medical issues. One is expected to come back within the next two weeks, depending on recovery time, while another should come back the first week in February. The office at Reichert is not staffed during route hours, as everyone — including mechanics and other staff members — is out driving bus.

“I have been actively trying to hire and cannot get people to come to interviews, let alone get them into training and get them licensed, but I am continually trying to get people in and get them hired,” Cherne said.


After a fall/winter ad campaign last year, Cherne said 37 applicants scheduled interviews, but only three actually showed up.

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel.

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Cherne said two drivers were just hired Monday, and she foresaw the district being down to at most one route not running in about three weeks time.

In the meantime, Jensvold told the board she is working to figure out where routes might be able to be consolidated or where kids might be able to jump on other buses if they have no other way to get to school. If a route is down, she said she might try to figure out if there’s a corner nearby where a student’s parent can drop them off to get on another bus.

The district has already consolidated several routes but is looking to potentially do more. Typically there would be 63 general education routes — not including those for special education — though right now there are 53 regular routes with the driver shortage.

“For us, the mission is our kids. It’s our most precious cargo — the most precious you can have, and so we take it so seriously because of that,” Jensvold said. “... Parents still have to work to take care of their families, so yeah, I do take it very personally.”

Reichert is offering a $500 hiring bonus right now to entice drivers, and Chevra said there are longevity stipends and other kinds of bonuses available throughout the year.

“We reward our employees,” she said, noting there are drivers who have been with the company for more than 25 years.


“We have good days, we have bad days, but I think we treat our staff very well,” Cherne added.

One of the things that isn’t helping, though, Cherne noted, is frustrated parents who leave angry comments on posts on Reichert’s Facebook page, especially when the company is advertising for open positions.

School transportation
Brainerd Public Schools Transportation Director Fran Jensvold, left, and Reichert Bus Vice President Kevra Cherne discuss the bus driver shortage during a Brainerd School Board meeting Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

“Nobody wants to work for a place that has negative feedback online,” Cherne said. “So please call us and let us help you with your complaints and not post it there.”

While both Cherne and Jensvold said they understand parents are frustrated, they and their staff are doing everything they can to get kids to and from school and communicate with parents in a timely manner.

If a route is not running, Jensvold said the goal is to notify parents by 5 p.m. the day before, but sometimes that isn’t possible, like when a driver calls out sick first thing in the morning. Parents will get notified as soon as possible, though, and can receive notifications through phone, email and the district’s Skylert system.

The Reichert Facebook page posts each day about which routes are not running, and there is now a document on the school website’s homepage to give families live updates. The website, Jensvold said, is the first place updates will be posted.

To clear up any misconceptions about how staffers choose which routes will be down each day, Cherne said there is a method. They take into account things like ridership and how far the route is away from school. A route closer to school with fewer riders is more likely to be canceled than a more rural route with more students, she said.

“A lot of parents just think that we continuously just throw a dart and pick a route or two every day, and I just want you to know that there’s a lot of thought that goes into it,” Cherne said. “We coordinate a lot with Fran (Jensvold) and the district office to try to make sure that we’re evening it out as best as we can. But we do have our limitations on which routes we can close on particular days.”


There are only a handful of drivers, Cherne said, who are willing to drive multiple routes, and it can be very intimidating for some to drive into an unfamiliar part of the county with turn-by-turn directions when it’s dark early in the morning to pick up kids.

A student boards a Reichert Bus Friday morning on Crow Wing County Highway 13, east of Nisswa. Brainerd schools were delayed for two hours because of the heavy snow, which fell overnight and into Friday morning. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
A student boards a Reichert Bus in 2019 on Crow Wing County Highway 13, east of Nisswa. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

While general routes have been the main problem this year, transportation for activities has not been affected so far.

Board members thanked Cherne, Jensvold and their staffs for all the work they’ve done to combat this issue, which they said nearby districts like Crosby-Ironton are also experiencing.

“We thank you so much for all that you do for our kids,” said board member John Ward, who attended the meeting virtually from Florida. “... For everybody that rides a bus, the bus driver is the first person a child sees and the last person a child sees, and just like the parents and the educators and all the staff, everybody is so important to the success of that child in their public education.”

Driver applications are available at .

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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