Districts learn to cope with bus driver shortages

Many kids have difficulty getting to school, forcing parents to do drop-offs and pick-ups and districts must get creative to recruit drivers.
By: | October 8, 2019
Due to persistent bus driver shortages, districts must find creative ways to staff routes. (GettyImages: leekris)

In districts across the country, bus driver shortages continue to make it difficult for many kids to get to school.

Students in Greater Amsterdam Interim School District in New York have experienced up to 1-hour delays due to bus driver shortages, according to Spectrum News. Denver Public Schools have also seen delays, as well as more congestion around schools, as more parents drop off and pick up students, reported The Denver Post.

In addition to late buses, the Baltimore Sun reported at the start of the school year that shortages led to overcrowding, with students crammed into seats or sitting on another student’s lap. Meanwhile, school administrators in Maine, Colorado, and Illinois said athletic events were being canceled because there weren’t enough bus drivers to transport teams, a Forbes report said.

Finding qualified drivers is especially tricky because of the healthy economy and because of perceived obstacles, like the need for a special drivers license—and districts are looking for solutions.

As part of recruitment efforts, some districts have increased wages to attract applicants, offered signing bonuses to new drivers, and promoted financial incentives for referrals, the Forbes article said.

Rockwood School District in Missouri offers a $1,000 signing bonus to attract veteran drivers and has a $500 school bus driver referral bonus program, according to KTVI News.

MPR News reported that districts that own their transportation departments have more control over details that attract and retain drivers. District 196 in Minnesota, for instance, offers drivers health insurance, sick leave and retirement benefits if drivers work 23 hours or more a week, the MPR News article said.

Some districts, like Marysville Joint USD in California, are paying more for additional help. Marysville pays an additional $20,000 a month to charter buses and drivers for field trips and after-school activities, according to KCRA News.

The Roanoke County School System in Virginia asked current employees holding a valid Commercial Driver’s License to help part-time by completing morning or afternoon routes, according to WSLS News. Employees were also tapped in the Crookston School District in northwestern Minnesota, where a labor shortage limited drivers available for at least 10 bus routes, reported MPR News.


From DA: Getting students with special needs on and off the bus


Bus driver shortages aren’t new. In a report by DA in 2015, experts said many districts nationwide were facing dire bus driver shortages, citing factors such as increased turnover, negative views of the occupation, and strict bus driver requirements.

DA reported that drivers must have a commercial motor vehicle license with school bus and passenger endorsements, which require written tests and training. Drivers must also have a physical exam by a doctor and be approved to drive a commercial motor vehicle to qualify for a license. Undergoing drug and alcohol testing and background checks is also mandatory, the DA report said.

“The school transportation industry has seen more driver shortages than not in the last 20 years,” Ronna Weber, executive director of the National School Transportation Association, told DA. “The industry is heavily regulated, and while that is a good thing and ensures the safety of the children we transport every day, that can also work against the industry in a stronger economy and at times of lower unemployment.”