Like all states, school districts in New York are facing challenges with a shortage of school bus drivers this school year.
New York state Gov. Kathy Hochul this week announced a multi-agency plan to address the school bus driver shortage. “The plan includes short-term steps to remove barriers and recruit traditional and non-traditional Commercial Driver’s License holders, expand CDL testing opportunities, and enhance processes all designed to get more drivers into school buses,” a press release stated.
In addition, New York state is also launching an outreach to more than 550,000 CDL holders.
The NYDMV sent an email to all CDL holders explaining the dire situation. The letter stated that “as a current or former CDL holder, you may be qualified to serve your community as a school bus driver this school year.” It continues to state that districts are offering signing bonuses, retention bonuses and other incentives to attract applicants.
Meanwhile, Hochul’s added that interested drivers will be surveyed and their information will be shared with local districts. Schools will be able to use the lists to recruit. Additionally, the state will target unemployed drivers through the state Department of Labor. “The state will also work with partners in law enforcement, firefighters, military and other organizations that have trained drivers in order to find more individuals interested in becoming school bus drivers,” the press release added.
“Our schools and public health officials have moved mountains to ensure our children receive an in-person education this year, and we are leaving no stone unturned to make sure schools have adequate bus service to bring students to school and back,” Hochul said. “While the shortage of school bus drivers is not unique to New York state, I have directed state agencies to utilize creative approaches and use every tool at their disposal to help districts affected by the bus driver shortage, so we can bring in as many qualified bus drivers as possible as quickly as possible.”
Long-term steps include changes to the training and licensing of drivers, as well as broader recruitment efforts.
Randolph Jerreld, transportation director at Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central Schools in Schenectady, New York, told School Transportation News he is not sure if the letters will help. He explained that his district has had a rocky start to the school year.
“I thought we were fully staffed until Sept. 2, when five staff people gave me notice,” Jerreld explained. “We are currently three-and-half runs short every day prior to [driver] call-ins. We are covering everything with my three sub-drivers and mechanics, but we really haven’t had many call-ins yet. The big blow was that the contractor who did our after-school sports trips bailed out on us. That leaves [us] with coaches, parents, and motorcoaches doing our sports trips. We are being pushed into a corner that we can’t get out of. I have several drivers in training, but they are weeks/months away from helping.”
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Meanwhile, Hochul stated that the DMV is enhancing and expediting the process for CDL complementation by removing the 14-day waiting period between the permit test and road tests. Jerreld noted that depending on where his applicants are, this could help with the training timeline.
DMVs will also work to increase capacity to administer written exams and road tests, the release states. Additionally, for school staff who already have a CDL, the state will be setting up expedited testing to obtain a permit to drive vans and buses temporarily.
The press release adds the state is continuing conversations to look at long-term strategies that will help with recruitment. Earlier this month, Rep. Joseph Morelle of New York urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to waive the CDL requirement for school bus drivers and instead establish a school bus specific license. Though, reactions on this strategy raised concerns on School Transportation News’ Facebook page.
“The state encourages schools to pursue creative and innovative ways to offer a wide array of benefits for school bus drivers that were previously not considered,” the New York press release added. “This includes signing and retention bonuses, expansion of benefits to the drivers, and other options to recruit drivers in a nationally competitive market. Schools can use federal funds to provide these benefits. Many school districts receive a significant percentage of these funds in reimbursement from the state and are in a position to offer more competitive pay without absorbing the full cost at the local level.”