Schools Desperately Short of Bus Drivers; Carpooling App Needed

by James C. Sherlock

A Fairfax County Public Schools Twitter message August 19:

“If you can walk with or drive your child (and perhaps a neighbor’s), please do. Also, we ask that you update your transportation status through your school, if you choose to not have your child take the bus.”

WTOP reported that as of Aug. 12, Fairfax County Public Schools was short 190 drivers.

Parents have already made plans and notified school districts if their children will be bus riders. I expect that the interlocking administration and logistics of car pools and buses to T-bone one another because of the late start and lack of preparation for the car pool option at scale. But that is where many districts are.

Driving a school bus is a difficult, nerve wracking and hazardous job. The training required makes them professional drivers. The demand for such skills and the pay and benefits in the private sector are very high and growing because of a labor shortage in the face of increasing demand.

Like pretty much every other type of blue collar work.

UPS, FedEx and Amazon have added tens of thousands of drivers. Entry-level FedEx package delivery drivers make about $24/hour to start plus benefits in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties.

Long-haul truck drivers of course make much more. Walmart driver’s earn in excess of $88,000 on average during the first year.

Both local and long haul commercial sector driving are full time, full year jobs. School bus driving is usually not 40 hours per week or full year work.

Loudoun County Public Schools, the highest paying school district for bus drivers, offers $22 per hour, no experience necessary, paid training, a $2,500 sign on bonus, a $1,000 referral bonus (for current county employees) plus full benefits.

Those inducements have not filled all of the school bus driver jobs in Loudoun County. And Loudoun can afford to pay them. Consider less gilded school districts.

That is before existing drivers, exasperated trying to make up for the shortage, quit at higher rates than normal.

The only available option for many districts will be to reduce demand — the number of bus riders — to meet the shrunken supply of drivers. Suburban school districts appear to be at the center of the storm.

Thankfully, there are commercial carpooling apps that can potentially offer support to K-12 schools.

A survey of selected school systems. Fairfax County is one of the nation’s largest and wealthiest public school districts, with 188,000 pupils that attend 198 schools and centers.Bus driver starting pay $19.58/hour with signing bonus up to $2000 and an employee referral bonus of $500.

    • Paid training
    • 6 paid holidays
    • Health insurance, life insurance, paid sick leave, retirement plan
    • A guaranteed minimum of 30 hours/week
    • Full-time benefits for part-time work

I will quote Fairfax County Public Schools. FCPS has both an app and website support for predicting delays, but nothing for carpooling.

FCPS, along with surrounding school divisions, is experiencing severe bus driver shortages due to a national and regional driver shortage. Please be assured, we are working hard to recruit and retain qualified bus drivers and to plan transportation that will be as efficient as possible with our current roster of drivers.

What will this mean for you and your family? FCPS will need to increase “double back” bus runs, meaning a bus is required to run two scheduled routes back to back that would normally have been covered by two separate buses. These “double backs” may impact delivery time to schools or bus stops and may have a domino effect throughout the day, affecting after-school drop-off times.

We ask families and students to have patience and flexibility at the start of the school year while we work through the issue. You can be prepared by checking the Here Comes the Bus (HCtB) app or FCPS School Bus Delays website for potential delays. Route information and transportation intent for your child is always available and current in your SIS ParentVue account.

A sampling of others:

  • Wise County, at the other end of the state, is not advertising for contract or non-contract bus drivers at this time. Seems the schools have enough for their 71 buses that transport 3,000 kids per day.
  • Albemarle County — “Always need bus drivers”– $15.42 to $18.51 hourly. Then there are the vacancies for mechanics and special needs car drivers in the Transportation department.
  • Grayson County — only advertising for substitute bus drivers.
  • Southhampton County — offering the Edulog Parent Portal Lite app. This app will assist parents with the visibility, timing, and location of their child’s bus in real-time. Southhampton needs a bus mechanic, school bus drivers and school bus aides.
  • Henrico County — Transports more than 28,000 students each day in 627 school buses to 46 elementary, 12 middle and 9 high schools. See the bus driver recruitment video; $14.91 an hour with benefits such as health care, sick leave and VRS retirement plan.  Substitutes $13.91.
  • Richmond $16.58 hourly. $500 sign-on bonus. I was disappointed but not surprised by the significant shortages of classroom teachers, reading and math interventionists, instructional assistants, and everyone else needed in the academic program in RPS this late in the game.

Recommendation. In many districts Virginians will need carpooling to and from K-12 schools at an entirely new scale.

There are several commercial carpooling apps that are worth investigating. I recommend the Virginia Department of Education task a tech consulting company that is already available under a state or federal task order contract  for the government to:

  • write an RFP;
  • judge the competition; and
  • award either a single or multiple award task order contracts available to the school districts.

That of course won’t be completed by the start of school, but can probably be done in a few months under emergency contracting waivers if needed.

This won’t be the last semester or year that such solutions will be in high demand.