School bus driver short­age of­ten leaves kids wait­ing

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - Bluegrass - BY VALARIE HONEYCUTT SPEARS

No­tices such as the one posted Wed­nes­day on the Mercer County Schools’ Face­book page about school buses be­ing late due to driver short­ages have been com­mon­place this month.

“Stu­dents who ride bus #072 will be ap­prox­i­mately 45 min­utes late get­ting home this af­ter­noon due to bus driver short­age,” Wed­nes­day’s no­tice said.

On Mon­day, an­other Face­book post for the Ken­tucky school dis­trict ex­plained, “Stu­dents who ride buses #011, #072 and #061 will be picked up ap­prox­i­mately 45 min­utes late this morn­ing due to bus driver short­age.”

Mercer County Schools Trans­porta­tion Direc­tor Mike Pre­ston said districts across Ken­tucky and the na­tion have been hit with a school bus driver short­age. Fayette County, in­cluded.

Fayette County Schools Trans­porta­tion Direc­tor Mar­cus Dobbs said Wed­nes­day that he is 21 bus drivers short. The dis­trict has 245 full-time drivers cur­rently. Dis­trict of­fi­cials have placed a sign in front of the school bus garage on Lib­erty Road say­ing they’re hir­ing.

The short­age “is worse this year than it has been,” Dobbs said. “It’s ba­si­cally tied to the econ­omy. When the econ­omy is do­ing very well like it is now and the un­em­ploy­ment rate is low, it’s hard for us to find drivers.”

Fayette of­fi­cials off­set the short­age of bus drivers by giv­ing a shift dif­fer­en­tial of up to $125 for ev­ery month Septem­ber through May, said Dobbs. They are look­ing at new re­cruit­ing ef­forts.

In Mercer County, Pre­ston has two routes with­out drivers. The start­ing pay for Mercer County school bus drivers is $14.09 per hour, he said. Drivers in that dis­trict must have a high school diploma, a gen­eral equiv­a­lency diploma or be work­ing on such a de­gree com­monly known as a GED. They must also have a com­mer­cial drivers li­cense. It takes 30 to 45 days to be­come a school bus driver, he said.

Pre­ston agreed with Dobbs say­ing the short­age gets worse in a strong econ­omy. A school bus driver’s job gen­er­ally only last four hours each day and “there’s a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he said.

“Some peo­ple panic think­ing about driv­ing a bus be­cause of the kids,” Pre­ston said. “Then, on the other side, it’s a re­ward­ing job for the ones that re­ally like it. If you like kids, if you love kids, its a great job.”

In an ef­fort to en­tice peo­ple to ap­ply to be Mercer County school bus drivers, the dis­trict is of­fer­ing a sign-on bonus of $500 and is will­ing to com­bine other part-time jobs (such as food ser­vice work­ers) to give job can­di­dates an eight hour work­ing day.

Ear­lier this year, for ex­am­ple, me­dia re­ports said there were bus driver short­ages in school districts in the Ash­land area, Bour­bon County, Hardin County and Shelby County. State school trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials have been help­ful and he’s filled two po­si­tions re­cently, Pre­ston said.

Jef­fer­son County has a dif­fer­en­tial pro­gram, in­creased hourly rate for per­fect at­ten­dance per pay pe­riod.

“It’s been very ef­fec­tive in help­ing us main­tain driver at­ten­dance,” Jen­nifer Bris­lin, a spokes­woman for Jef­fer­son County Pub­lic Schools said Wed­nes­day. Bris­lin said that be­cause of steps that Jef­fer­son school of­fi­cials have taken, that dis­trict cur­rently does not have a school bus driver short­age.

Those ef­forts also in­clude job fairs placed around key re­cruit­ing pe­ri­ods, in­creased driver pay from $16.95 to $20.65 per hour and cre­at­ing a cam­paign called “Drive the Fu­ture.”

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