How districts are coping as COVID worsens school bus driver shortage

Pittsburgh Public Schools postpones the first day because it's short seats for 11,000 students
By: | August 18, 2021

Administrators have been forced to delay reopening schools and to recruit parents to transport students as a worsening shortage of bus drivers spreads along with the latest COVID surge.

Pittsburgh Public Schools postponed the first day of school by two weeks, until Sept. 8, because the district is short about 425 drivers. This leaves about 11,000 students without a seat.

Administrators are now working on a transportation solution will require “a series of proposals and agreements being approved by multiple voting bodies over the next two weeks.”

The plan includes tiering school start and end times to maximize use of buses, placing more students on city buses and expanding walk zones around schools, the district says. Changing school start and end times will require the approval of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers union.

“This is the most efficient and effective way to get all of the students we can to school five days a week,” Megan Patton, the district’s director of pupil transportation, said.

In neighboring Delaware, EastSide Charter School has offered parents $700 per child to bring their kids back and forth to this school year. That means a parent with three children could earn $2,100.

“Delaware is currently facing a bus driver shortage. We believe that empowering parents is the best solution,” the school says on the homepage of its website.

Across the country, concerned administrators say COVID has only exacerbated a driver shortage that began before the pandemic.

In Virginia, the Chesterfield County School District is short about 100 drivers with school set to start on Aug. 23, Superintendent Merv Daugherty said in a Twitter video message from one of the district’s new electric school buses.

The district has nearly 700 buses in its fleet.

“We need your help to drive your child to school this year,” Daughtery said, adding that 98% of the district’s students are planning to return to school.

Salamanca City Schools in New York is offering $1,500 signing bonuses to fill eight vacant driver positions, reported. And in Maryland, the nationwide bus company, First Student, is offering $3,000 bonuses, CBS Baltimore reported.

The National School Transportation Association has urged Congress to pass “The National Signing Bonus Act,” a bill that would convert federal unemployment benefits into signing bonuses.

“Depending upon where a school bus contractor operates, the process for getting a candidate trained, qualified, and licensed can take anywhere from six to eight weeks, under the best of circumstances,” said John Benish, Jr., the association’s president and COO of the Cook-Illinois bus company. “In addition, school bus operators usually have additional company-based training requirements in addition to what is mandated by law.”