Amid bus driver shortage, West Salem driver enters 48th year

WEST SALEM, Wis. (WKBT)– The West Salem School District is facing a bus driver shortage, much like the rest of the nation.

Bus drivers can face an interesting schedule that doesn’t work for everybody.

“We start here at six in the morning and go until 8 a.m.,” said Rick Kline, the district’s transportation supervisor. “Then you start all over again at 2 p.m. and then end at 4:30, 5 at night.”

With the irregular schedule, drivers in the past were often stay-at-home moms, business owners and primarily farmers. However, as farming changed, those available to drive changed.

“A lot of the smaller farmers no longer are available like they used to be,” Kline said.

However, Kline noticed that there isn’t much turnover when drivers join the team. One of them, Bonnie Kortbein, whom Kline nicknamed the “Energizer Bunny,” is entering her 48th year as a driver.

She’s driven the same route for 47 of those years.

“I think I could probably do it backwards,” Kortbein said. “Every day is a new day, but every day is a fun day.”

Spending nearly five decades driving kids ages 4K to 12th grade, Kortbein has seen generations of kids get on her bus.

“I’ve seen a lot of 4K kids grow up and graduate, now. So the 4K route is my favorite route,” Kortbein. said.

From an everyday route, to severe weather, to state basketball tournaments, Kortbine has seen it all.

“There’s not too many places I haven’t been.”

Kline is thankful for drivers like Kortbein.

“She loves what she does. And we’re fortunate to have those people,” Kline said.

Though she has been everywhere, this isn’t the end of the road.

“I guess it’s been a, I don’t know, a privilege to go that long,” Kortbein said.

Kortbein and Kline agree it takes a special person to be a bus driver, and encourage anyone who has thought about driving to give it a try.

The West Salem district has 16 full-time drivers, and it isn’t the only district experiencing a shortage.

Recent News Headlines from News 8 Now