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An ongoing hiring challenge has brought about unconventional solutions to meet immediate needs.
One of the nation’s largest school districts hasn’t been immune to a struggle for many systems across the nation: hiring enough bus drivers.
The situation has gotten so bad in the Houston Independent School District in Texas that one local union official is suggesting that nighttime custodians be cross-trained for morning bus driving duties.
“We already have support personnel in place that work in the p.m.—why not bring them in the a.m. and let them run the a.m. route?” said Wretha Thomas, who leads the Houston Educational Support Personnel union, representing bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers. “That would take a big overload off HISD of having to leave these kids on the side of the streets,” she added.
Houston ISD transportation officials said the district needs to hire another 120 drivers to fill its current shortage.
The hiring challenge that school district transportation officials face is a common one across the nation, where mechanics, office and other support staff are getting behind the wheel to get students to and from school and parents have been frustrated by delayed buses.
In Lexington, Kentucky, the Fayette County Schools have also been dealing with a bus driver shortage. Marcus Dobbs, the district’s transportation director told the Lexington Herald Leader recently that the current shortage is worse than in previous years. “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.”
As of last week, Dobbs was short 21 bus drivers for routes serving Kentucky’s second-largest school district by enrollment.
In Prince William County, Virginia, Parkside Middle School has been looking at a plan to allow its teachers to serve as backup bus drivers.
The Prince William Times reported in late November:
They’d be assigned routes that allow them to arrive in time for the starting bell, teach all day and then transport students back home. Initially, the teachers would be on call to serve as back-up drivers. In time, the they could pick up routes paying $18.21 an hour.
It’s worth pointing out that The Times noted the school’s location in the sprawl of the Northern Virginia suburbs outside Washington, D.C., which requires that students take buses. “Sandwiched in between the City of Manassas and Manassas Park and crisscrossed by busy byways, the school cannot allow its students to walk to school,” the story says.
Until the next recession, when school bus driving jobs are likely to become hot commodities, communities that are designed in ways that require children to be dependent on school buses, like in Prince William County and so many other places around the U.S., are always going to be at the whims of the job market.
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.