Education

Kentucky students routinely have to wait on late school buses. Here’s why.

School bus driver sings to her special-needs riders, and it makes their day

Fayette County bus driver Jennifer Ward and monitor Diana Becker sing to their special-needs riders to calm their anxiety about riding the bus to Northern Elementary School.
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Fayette County bus driver Jennifer Ward and monitor Diana Becker sing to their special-needs riders to calm their anxiety about riding the bus to Northern Elementary School.

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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