Apparently, $35 an hour isn’t enough to retain bus drivers

One-third of a district's bus drivers called out of work on the same day, leaving parents frustrated and scrambling to find transportation on the first week of school.

Teacher strikes, employee dissatisfaction and burnout: This is a mere sample of the issues plaguing administrators in K-12 schools across the country, and the school year has only just begun.

On top of all that, add bus driver shortages.

Despite continuous efforts to create incentives to recruit and retain bus staff, several districts started their first week of classes without a full roster.

Such was the case for Wayne Public Schools in New Jersey, whose bus drivers earn a starting salary of $29 to $31 an hour, including full medical benefits during their first year of employment.

Other school districts in New Jersey are reportedly “scrambling” to fill their vacancies, offering up to $35 an hour plus perks.

According to the latest data from the Institute of Education Sciences’ School Pulse Panel Survey released in March, almost 30% of all public schools reported having transportation vacancies for the 2022-23 school year. Additionally, 61% of all public schools said it would be “very difficult” to fill those vacancies, and 98% overall say they would have some level of difficulty.

A survey released last month by the RAND Corporation also found that nearly 60% of districts reported they were still actively working to employ more bus drivers.

More from DA: “Boo… quitters!” Teacher strike in Seattle causes disruptions for schools on first day

Why is it so difficult to employ bus drivers? According to the researchers from the RAND survey, it’s because of the competition. “We suspect drivers are still likely experiencing shortages because of competition with other employers for low-wage workers,” the researchers wrote. “Workers’ health concerns about being in group settings, plus the more onerous qualification requirements relative to other positions, might also fuel these shortages.”

Washington Township schools in Indianapolis are also facing “extreme” driver shortages this year. Superintendent Dr. Nikki Woodson released a video to frustrated parents explaining the situation. “As a district, this is not how we wanted to begin the school year and certainly not indicative of the service that we want to offer our families,” she said in the video Tuesday. “Adding to these complexities we are currently experiencing, we have a high number of bus driver absences on certain days, which have impacted the entire system.”

Parents also received a note from the district explaining that one-third of their drivers called out of work on Wednesday. “All families are encouraged to find alternative transportation to school if possible to avoid the potential delays due to bus driver shortages,” the letter said.

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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