- While roughly half a million school bus drivers transport almost a third of the nation’s students each day, many school districts are struggling to fill bus driver positions. Recent surveys indicate that more than 90% of school districts and school transportation contractors are facing driver shortages and more than a quarter of these describe the shortages as severe or desperate, The 74 reports.
- The main contributing factor is low pay since driving a bus requires a commercial driver’s license and possessing one usually allows people to make more money in the commercial transportation sector. A thriving economy also makes shortages worse as fewer people are willing to drive school buses when other jobs are available.
- In light of these challenges, Phillip Burgoyne-Allen, a policy analyst at Bellwether Education Partners, suggests in the article that school districts employ recruitment strategies, such as holding job fairs, increasing driver pay, creating district driving training programs, or employing teachers to drive school buses. A new report on the issue also suggests policy changes on the state level that may improve the school transportation situation.
While most school districts are required to provide transportation for their students, the issue of transportation is growing more complex and can be one of the major financial drains on a school district. If school districts provide their own transportation, as most do, they must wrestle not only with finding enough qualified school bus drivers, but also with bus maintenance, optimizing school bus routes to provide the greatest efficiency, and ensuring student safety. In an effort to cut costs, some urban schools are turning to public transit or mass transit partnerships, especially for older students. However, the use of public transit has been linked in some studies to higher absenteeism rates and can create safety issues especially when students have to travel through high-crime areas. And in rural areas, public transit is not a viable option.
This means that most school districts need to hire school bus drivers to meet their needs. But it is often hard to attract and retain bus drivers because the pay is generally lower than they could earn as truck drivers, which are also in high demand. School bus drivers often work split shifts, rising early in the morning and then returning to transport students home from school. And because of their part-time status, they usually do not receive most of the benefits that full-time employees enjoy.
A bus driver who is trained in social-emotional learning skills can offer far more to a school district than transportation alone. School districts who value bus drivers can find ways to employ these workers full-time as maintenance staff, attendance workers, or teaching assistants during their time between shifts. Increasing pay is another way to help compensate for lack of benefits for part-time workers.
Some school districts are addressing the problem through creative recruiting techniques and by broadening their appeal to potential drivers. Retirees, veterans, and stay-at-home parents are some of the options. Some school districts are recruiting teachers with the lure of bonus pay and others are requiring that certain or all classified employees hold a commercial license in case they need to drive a school bus. Some districts have also lowered the requirements so that drivers are not required to have a high school diploma.