Bus staffing and routing problems leave districts scrambling for solutions

North Carolina's Durham Public Schools was closed on Monday due to a lack of available drivers. Another district is potentially cutting routes dramatically to compensate for staff shortages.

Over the past few years, K12 education has undergone many changes, prompting many who work in the industry to rethink their career choices. That includes superintendents who have become overwhelmed by the growing complexities of the job, teachers who can no longer teach a classroom of 30 students alone due to behavior issues—and bus drivers.

A December blog post from the National Education Association outlines some of the driving factors behind the bus staffing shortages that continue to plague school districts across the country. The teachers union highlights recent research from the Economic Policy Institute, which revealed that hourly wages only grew by 4.9% between 2019 to 2022, a welcome change but still lagging behind the median worker wage growth, which was 5.7%.

However, the average bus driver only earned about $20 an hour in 2022, 16.8% less than the median wage for all workers.

Headaches for districts persist

As a result of this staffing crisis, some districts are forced to cut bus routes to compensate. Tennessee’s Cheatham County Schools, for instance, canceled bus routes last week. It’s an issue that isn’t new for the district, either, WSMV reports.

The district was also forced to cancel routes during the fall semester, too, as a result of staffing shortages.

“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience,” the district said in a Facebook post. “Families will need to arrange other means of transportation to get their children to and from school both in the morning and afternoon on Friday, February 9, Monday, February 12 and Tuesday, February 13.”

Similarly, North Carolina’s Durham Public Schools canceled school entirely on Monday “due to absences within our transportation,” according to a news release from the district.

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Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools is potentially reducing bus routes to ease issues caused by staffing shortages, which would result in some 16,000 students losing bus services next year, WLKY reports. The revised bus routes would transport only students to their “resides schools,” one of 15 schools that are organized in three geographical networks that serve primary residential addresses, according to the district’s website.

The district is currently weighing three options for next year’s bus transportation:

  1. Requiring buses to provide transportation only to residents.
  2. Implement magnet hubs where parents can drop off their children to take a bus directly to school.
  3. Make no changes.

It’s a tough decision, but JCPS Chief Operations Officer Rob Fulk said during a board meeting that their goal is to put the district in a position that prevents bus routes from exceeding their available drivers. Choosing option one, however, would put roughly 16,000 students out of bus transportation services until they switch residence schools.

In the meantime, the district is partnering with TARC, the Transit Authority of River City, to allow students an alternative means of transportation if they end up being removed from their previous bus.

“Our plan right now is to provide any middle school or high school students who would like a TARC pass that they would be able to use that TARC pass at any time, along with ensuring that every one of our middle and high schools has a stop within the proximity of the school,” JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said during the board meeting.

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
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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