The most read School Transportation News magazine article of 2018 was a controversial story that was printed in the October issue. By an almost two-to-one margin, compared to the article that came in second place, the No. 1 most popular article was a five-page review titled, “Tipping the Pay Scale: School Districts Seek Creative Salary Solutions for Low Driver Pay.”
Not surprisingly, last year’s research survey confirmed that the No. 1 reason for the chronic school bus driver shortage nationwide was the low average rate of pay. That especially seemed to be the case when compared to other commercial driver jobs, as well as positions outside of the driving field.
Last year, when STN conducted an emailed national survey of its readers in August, it reported that the lowest starting school bus driver pay rate was $8.26 per hour. Also, the average starting salary in 2018 was $12.62 nationwide, while the median wage was $16.
Today, the median introductory hourly rate for drivers with their CDLs has moved slightly higher to $17. That suggests that the introductory rate nationwide is reaching a new consensus point—to set starting wages at a higher level. However, the possible role played by inflation was not factored into the survey.
This school year, the current average maximum rate for drivers with a CDL is $22 per hour.
Last year our survey found that nearly three-quarters of respondents reported their own operation had a driver shortage. This year, that rate was 80 percent.
For driver vacancies this year, the districts that have been hit the hardest by the driver shortage (with 51 or more vacancies), succeeded in shrinking that number. In other words, there are now fewer districts with major labor shortages than last year.
A new question in 2019 was whether or not respondents thought their own local drivers were paid too little, just right or not enough. About two-thirds (63 percent) agreed that local drivers were not paid enough.
Top 10 Additional Positions Offered to School Bus Drivers
- Kitchen staff/food service, cafeteria
- Teacher (aide, substitute, kindergarten monitor)
- Building aides/monitors/staff/student supervisor
- Garage/mechanic/fueling staff/parts runner
(Source: STN survey; 266 total respondents.)
In fact, readers in 2019 think the hourly rate should be raised by an average of $4 per hour. That seems to be a recognition, in my opinion, that a raise of only $1 or $2 an hour just isn’t enough to make a difference anymore in retaining or attracting drivers.
Basically, that suggests that driver wages have fallen so far behind wages in competing industries or positions, that anything short of a substantial increase of around $4 won’t normally be enough to make a difference in retention or attraction rates.
Slightly more than half of the readers (56 percent) reported this year that their districts or bus companies are paying new applicants while they train. The survey also found that exactly half (50 percent) of districts do not pay for the applicant’s CDL test. And, almost nine out of 10 (87 percent) of districts do not offer a hiring bonus to new drivers.
Similarly, over eight out of 10 districts (84 percent) in 2019 do not offer employee referral bonuses.
In addition, three out of four districts (73 percent) in 2019 allow their drivers to work in other on-campus positions, in order to boost their overall work hours and total compensation.
Regarding benefits in 2019, five out of 10 school districts or bus companies currently offer partial or full health insurance coverage to drivers. But one out of four districts or companies do not offer any insurance coverage, because the drivers are classified as part-time employees.
Half of the readers reported their districts or companies offer additional “significant” benefits to drivers. Sick leave led this list, with retirement benefits of some kind in second place, followed by dental insurance, miscellaneous (minor benefits, such as coffee, donuts and periodic barbeques), life insurance, paid holidays, personal days off, vision insurance, state retirement pensions plans and vacation pay.
In the state of Ohio, it appears that the nationwide driver shortage is not currently as severe as in other states.
For instance, Bruce B. Berry, director of transportation at Black River Local Schools in Sullivan, reports that at his district, there is no driver shortage. “All routes are covered with regular drivers and we have four regular substitutes to cover absences. In worst-case scenarios, I drive a bus route if no one else is available. So far this school year, I have only had to drive on three occasions.”
Berry is optimistic that his expected driver vacancies will be filled after the recent NAPT conference. “I currently have a new position for a special needs van driver that will be filled upon my return from the conference, and another special-needs van driver position that will also be filled due to retirement of a driver. I have internal candidates (substitute drivers) who will be hired to fill those vacancies.”
So, those two open positions “will be filled by Thanksgiving and most likely by Nov. 11, 2019,” Berry said.
Sharon L. Conley, who is a transportation supervisor and the south region director of the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation, says her district is in a good situation with drivers. “While I would like to have additional substitute bus drivers as a cushion, all of my routes are currently filled. However, a couple of drivers calling off certainly pose a challenge.”
While she currently has several drivers in training, Conley remains “optimistic that we can operate efficiently throughout the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and into the 2020-2021 school year.”
Related: Indiana School District Turns to Teachers to Help with Driver Shortage
Related: National School Bus Driver Shortage
Related: Are Teachers an Answer to the School Bus Driver Shortage?
Related: Texas Legislature Passes New School Bus Funding Formula
Related: Texas DPS Responds to Complaints of Overcrowded School Buses
Elsewhere in Ohio, the story is similar. Jay Price, the transportation supervisor at Mohawk Local Schools in Sycamore, says “We are very fortunate to not have a shortage this year. What has helped our district with getting drivers is recruiting current employees from the school. The most recent drivers I have trained have children who attend this school. The two drivers are aids in the school who get seven hours a day. The morning route and afternoon route are one hour and 15 minutes long each. Both drivers were excited after they received their first check—their pay doubled by adding the bus driving pay.”
According to Price, “The hardest part about recruiting drivers that I had was finding someone with the right temperament, and convince them of the school bus myths that the children run the bus. I have found in most cases, but not all, that women make the best drivers, due to their motherly instincts.”
From Price’s viewpoint, the reasons why schools have so many driver vacancies, “is the way society is and the lack of morals. No one wants to drive a bus with unruly kids who have no respect for anyone else. That is why it’s a parent problem.”
Price conceded, “Kids will be kids, just like I was growing up. But I knew the consequences were going to be unpleasant when I got home from my parents. I became a fast learner.”
He then asked, “Why don’t they believe school employees about their children’s behavior? I am not out to get their children in trouble. I believe in the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ I am part of the village. Step it up parents, it’s not all about you.”