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Various Reasons Cited for Widespread Bus Driver Shortages

School districts all across the country are facing bus driver shortages for reasons as varied as the states themselves, despite an economy that has millions looking for work.

A school board decision meant to save transportation dollars has ended up costing Geneseo (N.Y.) Central School District more money because of the resulting driver shortage. After the district switched to a single-run bus schedule this fall, several bus drivers resigned to protest the halving of their wages.

Now, the district is contracting with First Student transportation services and paying higher rates for outside drivers.

Palm Beach County (Fla.) School District finally has enough bus drivers, including dozens of new hires, after its driver shortage caused overcrowding and delays. Hillsborough County Public Schools has also experienced major delays and overcrowding because it is short about 100 drivers, according to Transportation Manager John Franklin.

Franklin told a local news station last week that the district is advertising to recruit more drivers, but it has been “tough” finding applicants. “It’s split-shift work,” he said, “and it’s a job that’s 12 months in duration.”

In Louisiana, the Lewiston, Auburn and Gray–New Gloucester school departments have struggled to recruit bus drivers because of the inconsistent hours and pay ranging from $12 to $14 per hour.

Walker County (Ala.) Schools still hopes to hire at least a dozen new full-time drivers to help cover its 136 routes. But, Transportation Director Mike Scott said the positions have attracted little interest from job seekers.

It took two months to fill this gap in Downers Grove, Ill., where Superintendent Mark McDonald attributes ongoing school bus woes to poor management, incorrect bus routing and a lack of drivers.

School districts in North Dakota as well as Texas have driver shortages because of stiff competition from nearby oil fields, where the same commercial driver’s license earns wages up to five times higher. Victoria ISD (between Houston and San Antonio) has been trying to fill 10 bus driver positions since school resumed. But, it offers part-time, split-shift jobs that pay about $10 an hour, while trucking jobs in oil pay $15 to $17.

Retired fleet manager Denny Coughlin said that, in 25 years, Minneapolis Public Schools never had problems hiring bus drivers because it offered full-time jobs with “good pay and benefits.” Now it’s a different story in many of Minnesota’s rural and suburban communities.

“Many areas still have shortages, and that’s rather surprising due to the unemployment factor. What I’ve found in talking to people, is that unemployment benefits are good enough that they won’t give them up to take a school bus driver job,” Coughlin told School Transportation News. “And that’s continued to create driver shortages.”

Tighter budgets in his state and others have forced school districts to cut back on benefits, so drivers are earning less but working harder due to longer routes and consolidation.

“They’re not restructuring contracts to pay drivers more — but to pay them less,” said Coughlin. “This is a real backward system since we’re carrying the most precious cargo there is.”

September 2020

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