School is underway for most school districts across the country. Unfortunately, what’s meant to be a time of excitement and gathering has, for many, turned into this long-feared realization that their schools will have no choice but to operate understaffed, a situation K12 leaders have worked all summer to prevent. However, some positions are much more difficult for districts to fill post-pandemic, particularly bus fleets.
“Let’s face it, everybody had to put food on that table back then, so they would go and you know, a lot of bus drivers left, took jobs elsewhere, delivering packages and things like that,” Tom Hamilton of the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts told CBS News regarding the state’s ongoing battle to recruit bus drivers ahead of the 2023-24 school year.
For example, Framingham Public Schools is one of several across Massachusetts that’s finding it difficult to fill and maintain its bus fleet.
“We have been made aware that we will only have 57 bus drivers to start this coming 2023-2024 school year,” reads a letter from the district to parents. “In order to operate efficiently and get as many students requesting transportation on a bus to and from school in a safe and timely manner, the District needs 77 buses.”
Knox County Schools in Tennessee is in a similar dilemma as the district is short 31 bus drivers in its second week of school, Knox News reports. As a result, students are getting home hours later than usual.
That situation is better than last year, according to the district’s Director of Transportation Ryan Dillingham. This time last year, the district was short 50 drivers. But in some areas throughout the district, this school year is looking worse than others.
“Some contractors have more driver openings than others,” he told Knox News. “Some have more openings in some communities than in others communities but we have driver shortages all across Knox County.”
“When you have vacancies stacked on top of vacancies, everyone is then running behind.”
A “transportation disaster” in Kentucky
Kentucky’s largest school system, Jefferson County Public Schools, was forced to choose schools through August 15 after a “transportation disaster,” according to the district’s superintendent. The district had recently redesigned its plan to reduce the number of routes to compensate for their ongoing driver shortage, but confusion struck, inevitably leaving some children on the bus until just before 10 p.m. on Wednesday, the first day of school, CNN reports.
In a video statement to families, Superintendent Marty Pollio apologized to the district’s 96,000 students, their families and other members of the community. He said that canceling the second and third days of school was the most difficult decision he’s ever had to make.
District administration later addressed the need to close schools through Monday and Tuesday.
“I saw some incredible instruction,” Pollio said in the video statement. “Kids excited, families excited, new school buildings, and to have it end with the transportation disaster that we had last night was truly unacceptable. And once again, I apologize for that.”
Superintendent Marty Pollio’s message to families following the transportation issue
Families waited hours for their children to return home. And as of 9:58 p.m. on Wednesday, several students had yet to make it back home.
“We will be working diligently to make adjustments with the goal of reducing bus wait times and ensuring every child who needs one has a safe ride to and from school,” said Pollio.