School districts across the country struggling to hire bus drivers

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School districts across the country struggling to hire bus drivers

Public school districts are struggling to hire bus drivers again this year, when the new school year has just started or will soon be underway.

In cities like Chicago, Louisville and Tampa, where the school year begins in August, district officials have issued letters to parents asking them to drive their students to class or warning them that the first few weeks of class may be difficult because of a driver shortage.

CBS News local news sources say that localities in Colorado, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are also experiencing driver shortages. The busing problems that the district is facing today are a continuation of the national driver shortage that began soon after the nation began emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.

Kentucky's largest district, Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, has less than 600 drivers and has been losing hundreds of drivers for various reasons.

We had more than 900 as recently as a few years ago before COVID but have been losing them ever since, said Mark Hebert, a district spokesman.

Of all public schools in Louisville, about 70% are relying on school buses for transportation. The district's driver shortage caused many classes to be canceled last week.

Florida is also grappling with a shortage of drivers. In Broward and Miami-Dade counties, school districts need about 100 drivers, CBS News Miami reported.

CBS MoneyWatch spokeswoman Jennifer Holton said the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa has about 200 bus driver vacancies and is still actively hiring. Over the summer, the district launched a marketing campaign aimed at drumming up interest in bus driving, she said.

The district's current 634 drivers, along with those working double runs, are also working double runs to make up for the total 837 bus routes across the county.

There is no specific reason why it has been difficult to recruit drivers, he said. We know that district schools across the nation are experiencing a shortage, so it's not specific to one area of the nation. The driver shortage in Albemarle County Public Schools in Charlottesville, Virginia, is partly due to an extra 3,000 students requesting bus transportation for this upcoming year.

Fully staffed, we need about 160 bus drivers and we currently are short by about 12 at this point, said Phil Giaramita, a district spokesman. 12 routes are open, with no driver assigned. The students who live on these routes have been placed on a waiting list until new drivers can be hired or we can reconfigure bus routes. Giaramita said the district's driver shortage began during the pandemic, but has continued, even though officials have raised driver salaries to roughly $21 an hour. Despite this move, it's tough to hire drivers because most of them are opting for higher-paying jobs with better benefits, he said.

To give you an idea of how competitive the market is, we recently lost a driver to a private business that gave the driver, as an incentive, a rent-free home. Hard to compete with that but an idea of just how intense the competition is for anyone with a commercial driver's license. The Chicago Public Schools has around 681 bus drivers on staff, but still need another 1,300 ideally before the first day of the August 21 school year, CBS News Chicago reported. Drivers there make between $20 and $225 a hour. Without the additional help, Chicago district officials said they will be forced to limit bus services to students with diverse learning needs, students in temporary living situations and general education students who attend the same school as a diverse learner or sibling.

As most bus drivers work from 25 to 35 hours a week, being a school bus driver is not a desirable option for those looking for a full-time job. Finding qualified works is another challenge, as all states require drivers to have a commercial drivers license CDL to operate a bus.

Tim Krise, the president of Krise Transportation, which provides bus services for 26 school districts across the state, said that another challenge is finding people who work well with children.

It's the first thing they see every day, the first person, and we want them to have a positive experience when they ride the bus to and from school, he said.