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FIRST TAKE


Don’t Be Short-Sighted About Driver Shortage


WRITTEN BY RYAN GRAY | RYAN@STNONLINE.COM T


he following observation probably won’t come as a shock. Across the country, school districts are addressing severe bus driver shortages. With school now “out” in most places, at


least in a traditional sense, transportation departments are busy recruiting candidates for the fall amid optimiz- ing routes, taking delivery of new buses and equipment, servicing existing buses and equipment, planning and delivering driver and staff in-service training, and much more. But first and foremost, who will be filling the driver seats when the buses start rolling in August? Tis month, we report findings from our most recent


reader survey on driver salaries, and the shortage, but we also expanded our questioning to include how school dis- tricts are trying to incentivize new driver candidates or vet- erans in an effort to keep them put. With average starting pay still hovering around the $14 per hour mark nation- wide, transportation departments need to get creative. One of the 645 readers who responded to the survey told us that the district offers sign-on bonuses to success- ful recruits as well as referral bonuses to existing drivers who vouch for candidates. Ten there’s the requisite coverage of CDL certification and background check costs by states or districts. Another reader said the district goes a step farther, paying for driver health insurance and even accepting their children in the school district when they do not reside within the boundaries. A challenge of the Affordable Care Act, and there are many of them, is that school bus drivers who work 30 hours are considered full time. But hundreds of school districts—391 to be exact—reported their bus drivers are already full time and thus receive full health benefits. Tat’s more than 62 percent of respondents, yet nearly 73 percent still report driver shortages. A separate survey of local school bus contractors by the Pittsburgh Gazette in April found that 90 percent of companies reported a driver shortage last year. As we learn this month, school districts are turning to job fairs to reach out to community job seekers. Julie Metea writes about how a similar fair has turned into a great success for Humble Independent School District north of Houston. More and more school districts na- tionwide are following suit, from California to Florida. Tere have been some short-term successes, at least, but


12 School Transportation News • JUNE 2016


it certainly seems this will continue to be a chronic issue affecting the entire industry. School bus drivers who stick with it and earn seniority can, in some cases, see their wages rise well above $20 an hour, not bad for a 40-hour work week for 52 weeks a year. But the simple truth is that school bus drivers are still in essence part-time workers because it can be nearly impossible to log a full year’s worth of work, no matter the summer school routes and activity trips. It’s hard to make ends meet only working half the year. School bus drivers need to have supplemental income, which has always made the job a perfect fit for retirees. As the Baby Boomer generation continues to get older, per- haps there is some relief in the near future. It’s certainly not a permanent fix, as our nation’s demographics show a large drop off in aging population. Still, for those who don’t take their CDL to a high- er-paying, and often less stressful, job with a trucking company or the local transit agency, driving the yellow bus can provide unimaginable rewards. While driving a school bus will likely never result in a six-figure salary, honing your chops behind the wheel can certainly help lay the ground work for advancement in the student transportation industry down the road. I always ask trans- portation directors how they started in the industry, and nine times out of 10, it was operating a school bus route. Additionally, many of these professionals tell me of one or two people who served as mentors who helped pave the way for a career in student transportation. What are you doing at the departmental level or


otherwise to identify the next crop of industry leaders? Do you have a plan for who will replace you when you retire? Take a look at your current crop of drivers, even if it’s not a full team, as well as your incoming candidates, and ask yourself if you are doing all you can to keep them engaged and passionate about their jobs. What can you do to make then want to come to work each day. Be mindful of these questoins, as you might just one of the next great industry minds in your midst. 


Ryan Gray, Editor-in-Cheif


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