As school districts gear up for a return to the classroom this fall, many transportation departments are still dealing with the effects of a driver shortage made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help boost and retain the pool of drivers for the upcoming 2021-22 school year, transportation departments are ramping up their recruitment efforts, implementing new routing and software solutions, and, in some cases, contracting out their services to ensure smooth operations.
Columbus City (Ohio) Schools recently purchased new routing software to help make its bus routes more efficient amid the ongoing driver shortage. During the district’s board meeting on Tuesday, board members approved a $327,000 purchase of software from Dynamic Ideas Routing, a company that seeks to optimize transportation management, according to a video of the board meeting (remarks begin at 39:53).
Talisa Dixon, Columbus City Schools superintendent, said during the meeting that the district currently has 608 bus drivers, and is “aggressively recruiting” more, with 146 candidates in training. By comparison, during the 2019-20 school year — pre-pandemic — the district employed a total of 765 drivers.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Public Schools is opting to enlist the help of its local public transportation provider to transport students.
When the district’s classes resume on Aug. 25, roughly 650 Pittsburgh Public Schools students and 450 non-public school students transported by the district will ride the Port Authority of Allegheny County to and from school, according to WTAE.
Megan Patton, the director of transportation for Pittsburgh Public Schools, told the news source that this will increase the district’s number of students who are currently using public transit to get to and from school to about 6,000 to 7,000 students.
Taking a slightly different approach, Williamsburg-James City County (Va.) Public Schools (WJCCPS) has approved a $1.1 million cooperative transportation contract with alternative student transportation provider ALC Schools for the upcoming school year.
During the district’s board meeting on July 13, Daniel Keever, the chief operating officer for WJCCPS, said that the alternative busing options will help bring 14 additional drivers to the district to transport about 80 to 90 students, according to a video of the meeting (remarks begin at 1:09:15). Keever added in the video that the district is currently short about 27 drivers.
Other ways districts are increasing efforts to recruit drivers, include hiring incentives and bonuses, adding recruitment signage to buses, and hosting job fairs and school bus ride-along events.
In Florida, The School District of Palm Beach County is working to host weekly bus driver job fairs to fill approximately 100 vacant positions.
Horry County (S.C.) Schools, which is also short about 100 bus drivers, is offering new and returning drivers bonuses of up to $1,500 each semester this coming school year, according to WBTW. In addition, the district is hosting a bus driver job fair on Aug. 12.
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