(NewsNation) — Schools across the country are having issues trying to fill open bus driver positions, leaving many scrambling to find solutions.
Districts have had to change or even cancel bus routes , or decided on different start times, to rectify the situation. Last fall in Chicago, the problem was so bad that thousands of public school students were left without a ride on their first day, local news outlet Block Club Chicago reported. This year, rides could be as long as 90 minutes each way as hundreds of positions in the city remain vacant, a Chicago Public Schools spokesperson told Block Club,
Mark Lieberman, a reporter for Education Week, said a lack of bus drivers is a problem that’s plagued districts even before the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in rural districts. But the coronavirus has made it a more widespread problem, Lieberman said on “Morning in America.” Some districts laid off drivers when schools turned to virtual learning.
Now, getting them to come back has proven to be a challenge.
A combination of low wages, as well as difficult working conditions, have made the job less appealing, Lieberman said.
“Most school districts do not have the capacity to pay bus drivers a substantial wage beyond minimum wage,” Lieberman said. “I’m hearing from district leaders and principals all the time: “‘You know, our drivers would rather go get a job at a factory down the street that pays double what we can pay, or they’d rather drive for Uber, or they’d rather drive a bus for another company that pays more.”
Student misbehavior plays a part in low bus driver morale as well.
“I’ve talked to school bus drivers who say, you know, I love my job, but I’m on a bus with 60 kids, and if they’re misbehaving or one of them throws something at me, there’s nobody else on the bus to help me out while I’m driving,” Lieberman said. “And so (there’s) the safety concern as well.”
Some districts are attempting different solutions for the shortage. One Lieberman talked to is consolidating its routes, and using it as an opportunity to make the routing system more efficient.
“There are things districts can do to look at their systems and try to tighten things up, or maybe address areas where things have gotten a little bit missed,” he said. “But I think the broader systemic solutions do revolve around better pay, better benefits, better funding for schools as a whole.”