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Many School Districts Face Shortage of Bus Drivers as School Year Begins

Public school districts are having trouble hiring bus drivers again this year, at a time when the new school year has just begun or will soon be underway.

In cities like Chicago, Louisville, and Tampa, where the school year starts in August, district officials have sent letters to parents asking them to drive their students to class or warning them that the first few weeks of class might be difficult because of a driver shortage.

Districts in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania are also reporting driver shortages, according to CBS News local reports. The busing problems that districts face today are a continuation of the national driver shortage that began soon after the nation began emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.

Kentucky’s largest district — Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville — has less than 600 drivers now and has been losing hundreds of drivers for different reasons.

“We had more than 900 as recently as a few years ago before COVID but have been losing them ever since, similar to other large districts across the country,” Mark Hebert, a district spokesman, told CBS MoneyWatch.

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About 70% of public school students in Louisville depend on school buses for transportation. Many classes in the district were canceled last week due to the driver shortage.

Florida is also struggling to find drivers. In Broward and Miami-Dade counties, school districts need about 100 drivers, CBS News Miami reported.

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200 bus driver vacancies

Meanwhile, the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa has about 200 bus driver vacancies and is “still actively hiring,” HCPS spokesperson Jennifer Holton told CBS MoneyWatch. The district launched a marketing campaign over the summer, aiming to help drum up interest in bus driving, she said.

In the meantime, the district’s current 634 drivers are working double runs to make up for the total 837 bus routes across the county.

“There is no specific reason why it has been difficult to recruit drivers,” Holton said. “We know school districts across the nation are dealing with a shortage, so it is not specific to one area of the country.”

$21 an hour

The driver shortage in Albemarle County Public Schools in Charlottesville, Virginia is, in part, due to an extra 3,000 students requesting bus transportation for this upcoming year.

“Fully staffed, we need about 160 bus drivers, and we are currently short by about 12,” Phil Giaramita, a district spokesman, told CBS MoneyWatch. “This means 12 routes are open, with no driver assigned. Students who live on these routes have been placed on a waiting list until new drivers can be hired or we can reconfigure bus routes.”

Giaramita said the district’s driver shortage started during the pandemic but has continued, even though officials have raised driver salaries to roughly $21 an hour. Despite that move, it’s tough to hire drivers because most of them are opting for higher-paying jobs with better benefits, he added.

“To give you an idea of how competitive the market is, we recently lost a driver to a private business that gave the driver, as an incentive, a rent-free home,” he said. “Hard to compete with that but an idea of just how intense the competition is for anyone with a commercial driver’s license.”

Limiting bus services

Chicago Public Schools have about 681 bus drivers on staff but still need another 1,300 — ideally before the first day begins on August 21, CBS News Chicago reported. Drivers there make between $20 and $25 an hour. Without the extra help, Chicago district officials said they will be forced to limit bus services to students with diverse learning needs, students in temporary living situations, and general education students who attend the same school as a diverse learner or sibling.

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Being a school bus driver is not a viable option for people looking for full-time work, since most bus driving positions entail 25 to 35 hours a week. Finding qualified works is another challenge, as all states require drivers to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate a bus.

In Pennsylvania, Tim Krise, president of Krise Transportation, which provides bus services for 26 school districts across the state, said another challenge is finding people who work well with children.

“It’s the first thing they see every day, the first person, and we want them to have a positive experience when they ride the bus to and from school,” he told CBS News over Zoom.

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