Probing the Curious Shortage of School Bus Drivers

school_busby James A. Bacon

There’s an odd little story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today about how E.S.H. Greene Elementary School on the south side of Richmond is having trouble finding school bus drivers. The school has resorted to a “double back” system in which bus drivers, after dropping off the first load of kids, doubles back to pick up a second load. As a consequence, many kids are stuck at school as much as an hour after the 3:45 p.m. bell has rung.

Judging by the challenges that bedevil inner-city schools, keeping children late at school may not rank high on the list of concerns. What rankles is that the problem occurs in the first place. Richmond school officials indicate that similar problems are occurring at eight other schools and that “efforts to recruit bus drivers are underway.” Is the economy running at such a red-hot pace that people spurn jobs as school bus drivers? Or is something else going on?

The number of buses is not an issue. According to the T-D article, Superintendent Dana T. Bedden “said there are enough buses to get everyone home on a regular schedule but not enough drivers to get them on the road.”

Surely there are people in the poverty-stricken south side of Richmond who would like to make some extra money. The job search site Indeed indicates that bus drivers in Richmond make $11.63 an hour, considerably more than minimum wage.

Part of the problem may be absenteeism. As Principal Linda Sims describes the situation, “On a good day, we can get three [drivers]. On most days, it’s two, where he would have to run and run and run till we get all the children home.”

Another part of the problem might be the job requirements. Here is a list of requirements listed for bus drivers in Greene County, Va.:

Must demonstrate the ability to successfully complete the Virginia Education Department training curriculum for school bus drivers and obtain a Commercial Driver’s License with appropriate school bus endorsements within the probationary period. Complete State and County requirements of twenty hours of classroom and twenty hours of behind the wheel instruction. No reckless driving or driving under the influence convictions within five years and/or fewer than two moving violations within 12 months of employment. … Ability to: develop and maintain a positive and, helpful attitude toward students; learn computer hardware and software applications; communicate and develop effective working relationships with students, parents and staff.

What does it take to complete the state’s school bus driver training program? According to this VDOE document, prospective drivers can’t just sign up for training at the drop of a hat. They must have held a commercial drivers licence for at least two years beforehand. Then they must attend a training program, classes for which in the Richmond area are held once a year. This year the training took place in August.

Let’s see: Must have had a commercial drivers license for two years. Must go through 40 hours of training. Training available only once a year. Must be computer literate. And, oh, by the way, must have a decent driving record. I wonder how many people willing to work for $11 to $12 have those qualifications. No wonder it’s hard to find school bus drivers!

Meanwhile, Principal Sims is pursuing another option: getting her students to walk to school. To put the walk-to-school option into effect, she has secured a grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation to install sidewalks in tandem with crossing guards.

Hmmm… I wonder what the requirements are for crossing guards.

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7 responses to “Probing the Curious Shortage of School Bus Drivers”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Hooray! You’re back!

    You forgot to mention these are at best part time jobs with strange twice-a-day hours. Odds are its not 40 hours per week at all. Indeed, not that attractive for the people who meet their qualifications, people who can have an actual career as a commercial driver.

    But kids walk to school? What planet are you on?

  2. You’re right, these are part-time jobs. Total pay is maybe $10,000 to $13,000 a year, although some localities do offer benefits. I can’t see anyone wanting to drive a bus unless they’re in a semi-retirement situation or, for personal reasons, actually prefer a part-time job.

    I’m wondering if the state requirements are excessive. I’m not saying they are; I’m just asking the question.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      you don’t want weak standards for school bus drivers. It’s a slippery slope that crashes and burns the first time a child is killed and questions arise about the standards.

      Most drivers in Spotsy are not “retired” – they are younger – usually married women and perhaps it would be interesting to better understand what the demographics are of existing school bus drivers – rural, city and suburbs.

      Lady in our subdivision drove – in her 30’s, hubby works in NoVa… she works shopping, doctor, kids , etc around the twice-daily driving.

      She’s up at a god-awful hour in the mornings… picking up kids – in the dark.

      She says that there are some really irresponsible drivers out there who don’t give a rat’s behind if its a school bus “in their way”.. wants cameras on the bus to capture their behaviors and plates…

      My view is that it’s a pretty tall order to pay marginal wages and expect top-of-the-line professional drivers.

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Fairfax County Public Schools pay bus drivers an hourly rate ranging between $18.05 to $33.15. depending on the classification of the job and longevity.

    The qualifications are as follows; “Any combination of education and experience equivalent to graduation from high school plus two years’ driving experience and a driving record without multiple violations. Familiarity with Fairfax County roads. Some knowledge of state regulations and laws pertaining to the operation of school buses. Knowledge of first aid equipment and procedures. Ability to read, understand, and carry out oral and written instructions in English. Sufficient strength, agility, dexterity, visual acuity, and ocular-motor reaction time to operate a school bus during any time of day and in emergencies. Valid driver’s license with a good driving record. Successful completion of an FCPS bus driver’s training course including first aid and CPR. Possession of a CDL-B with P and S (passenger and school bus) endorsements (VA residents can obtain CDL during training course). Ability to maintain discipline. Ability to pass a preemployment physical examination with controlled substance testing, annual physical examinations, and random drug test. Among the essential functions of this job are regular attendance, punctuality in reporting to work, and timely submission of attendance and leave requests.”

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    does the job provide health insurance?

    Remember, in Virginia, if you work and the employer does not provide insurance and you cannot afford it – you cannot get MedicAid whereas if you are jobless – you may qualify…

    In our area – the school bus jobs are a ladder to better jobs that require a CDL.. and do provide some kind of health insurance.

    In terms of stiff qualifications – no School system wants to have a bus accident with hurt or killed kids and then a revelation that their standards were lacking compared to other school systems or industry standards for passenger buses in general.

    I don’t know but I suspect school systems are going to be fairly strict on standards since kids are involved.

    perhaps this is an opportunity for Uber, eh?

    Uber Bus? 😉

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      It’s my understanding that health coverage is provided in Fairfax County, although there has been discussion of giving drivers an option for higher pay, instead of insurance, because many drivers have indicated they have other coverage.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    In Spotsylvania – bus drivers and maintenance folks get health insurance.

    what this means is that families where the breadwinner is a tradesman or similar – and does not have health insurance – the spouse takes the school job so they have family coverage. It’s worth the low pay and twice-a-day split shift..

    I suspect similar issues occur in Richmond – depending on whether Richmond provides health insurance or not.

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