James Blue is general manager of  School Bus Fleet .

James Blue is general manager of School Bus Fleet.

“You couldn’t pay me enough to drive a school bus.”

Have you heard someone utter words to that effect? If so, the statement likely reflected a variety of factors that can make school bus driving an intimidating job. To name but a few examples:

• For many people, school buses — even the relatively small Type As — are much larger vehicles than they’ve ever driven.
• Being responsible for the safety of dozens of other people’s children every school day is a daunting duty.
• Trying to manage the behavior of said children while safely driving a large vehicle is like high-stakes multitasking.

Those factors, among others, don’t make it any easier to fill the driver’s seat. For school bus operations, recruiting and retaining drivers is an ongoing challenge that has been particularly pronounced in the past couple of years.

Our 2015 Contractor Survey (see pg. 20 in our July issue) found that driver shortage among school bus contractors is on the increase. This year, only 6% of respondents have no shortage of drivers. That’s down from 15% having no driver shortage in 2014 and 27% having no driver shortage in 2013. Meanwhile, 28% of respondents this year said that they have a severe or desperate shortage.

Adding to the difficulty of attracting people to the school bus driving profession is the pay. Our Contractor Survey found an average school bus driver starting wage of $15.15 per hour, while our 2014 School District Survey (see November issue, pg. 28) found an average of $14.58 per hour.

To compare to the pay levels for other driving professions, we can turn to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau’s most recent data, from May 2014, reports these mean hourly wages:

• School or special client bus drivers: $14.38
• Transit and intercity bus drivers: $18.95
• Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers: $20.16

The bureau’s report doesn’t separate school bus drivers from drivers of special clients (e.g., the elderly or people with disabilities), but the statistics at least roughly show that jobs driving other types of large vehicles can provide higher compensation than the yellow bus business.

In some cases, the challenge for school bus operators is to pay wages that are competitive with similar employers. A recent WSBT news story told of an Indiana district’s severe driver shortage. The superintendent said that a key factor in the shortage is that the district’s starting pay for school bus drivers, at $13 per hour, is much lower than a nearby district’s, $18 per hour.

We recently reported on a couple of districts whose boards approved pay raises for their school bus drivers. Their goals: to mitigate driver shortage and to be more competitive with other employers in the region.

There will still be those who say they wouldn’t consider driving a school bus for any level of compensation. But a higher starting wage could sway those who are on the fence.