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Ease Your Staffing Shortages

When speaking with school transportation industry professionals at private school bus companies and school districts alike, both tell me that staffing is always top of mind these days, especially with the ongoing driver shortage. This situation has clearly put stress on transportation departments and staff. Parents are stressed, too, as they expect the same level of service regardless of the staffing challenges school transportation is facing because of the direct impacts on their lives and families.

According to a survey conducted by the National School Transportation Association in March, 54 percent of school bus contractor members have more than a 10 percent driver shortage. “That’s a staggering number,” said Curt Macysyn, NSTA’s executive director.

Many believe today’s staffing shortages, particularly in school transportation, are more pronounced than in the past and will persist well beyond 2022. I would agree with this statement, but there are steps that can be taken now to ease future workforce pressures.

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The easiest option is to build retention strategies into your workforce. For example, while school bus drivers and mechanics seek commensurate recognition and compensation for expertise and effort, some may put a premium on flexible scheduling, strong management support, open lines of communication, and accessibility of professional development and conferences to advance their careers and knowledge. Plus, it’s always nice to be able to promote from within your future leaders

The Great Resignation compounded by inflation, surging fuel prices, and the overall price increases of the of the products we consume everyday have all driven employees to seek new opportunities. If you are not raising wages and benefits, be prepared to lose staff as a result.

Many employers are responding. Last month, Clark County School District (CCSD) that operates almost 1,500 bus routes in and around Las Vegas raised its hourly pay in response to the staffing shortage that is impacting the safe transportation of students to school, explained Jennifer Vobis, the district’s executive director of transportation. Last month, CCSD had about 240 bus driver vacancies. As a result, the district announced that bus driver hourly pay would rise to $21.67 from $15.36 for newly hired drivers and to $29 from $20 an hour for veteran drivers, depending on years of service. That’s about a 45 percent step up in driver pay. Wow. The higher pay reflects more of what the position is, said Vobis. “Normally we have about 10 to 15 interviews a week, but with all the news coverage on the school bus driver wage increase, we’ve had 67 interviews in the first three days. It’s clearly having a positive impact on recruitment,” she added.

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Also, CCSD offers two different bonuses, one for an attendance rate of 95 percent for school bus drivers and aids of $500 per quarter and the other being a districtwide $2,000 bonus for all employees who worked during the coronavirus pandemic.

Another great idea came from Kayne Smith, STN’s reigning Transportation Director of the Year from Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District near Houston, who said 10 teachers are now driving school buses. “A districtwide email was sent out to administrators and teachers showing the economic benefits of driving a school bus,” Smith explained. “Transportation sets a fixed dollar amount per run, and since these are already district employees, they don’t require benefits like a new hire.”

He added the response has been highly positive, as 77 applicants expressed interest after receiving the first email invitation.

“Granted not all the applicants have a CDL, but we are prepared to offer the necessary training to get the existing school staff setup,” Smith continued. “It’s a win-win for everyone. A positive outcome we’ve seen is the teachers and administrators see first-hand how hard transportation is working to support the kids they teach every day. It’s about building a great community in our schools.”

Creating your own solutions is a key factor in addressing workforce shortages. Continue sharing your mission, values, diversity, equity, and inclusion goals on social media. This will be critical in attracting new employees who often value cultural fit over traditional benefits. Transportation has always been resilient, so be sure to continue to show that grit to get the job done for your kids and community.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the April 2022 issue of School Transportation News.

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