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Nationwide bus driver shortage affecting local school districts

Posted at 5:25 PM, Sep 09, 2021

A severe bus driver shortage across the state and nation is impacting local schools.

The Santa Maria-Bonita School District is working around the clock to try to figure out an efficient bus schedule for its many schools across Santa Maria.

Locally, parents, students, and school officials are feeling the impacts.

"Some schools, unfortunately, will not be able to have bus transportation and so we are asking parents to find other methods to get to school whether it be walking, riding a bike, driving them in a car,” said Maggie White, Santa Maria-Bonita School District Public Information Officer.

White said they typically have 20 bus routes but now with this shortage, their drivers have been cut in half. That's put a strain on the number of routes, resulting in some schools no longer having bus service.

Schools that no longer have bus service:

  1. Jimenez Elementary School
  2. Battles Elementary School
  3. El Camino Junior High School

"I think it's a very unfortunate situation, especially me as a parent,” said parent Lydia Gomez.

White says they made the difficult choice to stop bus service at those schools for multiple reasons, including that, for the most part, those bus routes didn't have as many students as other locations.

School district staff are now working to make sure kids get safely to school in other ways.

"We began to put our own staff at those busy intersections, those busy crosswalks so that students who were previously riding a bus who are now walking will know the safe route to school,” White said.

In a statement, Student Transportation of America, which operates the buses and employs the drivers, told KSBY:

“Student Transportation of America, like many other student transportation providers, is currently experiencing a shortage of eligible bus drivers for the 2021-2022 school year, primarily due to unforeseen challenges caused by the pandemic.

The driver shortage has been an ongoing issue for providers across the country, even pre-pandemic, and the public health crisis ultimately exacerbated the problem. This includes many unanticipated retirements, mostly due to health concerns from those with pre-existing conditions and those who are at a higher risk for COVID-19, as well as a limited applicant pool of new recruits. Adding to the complexity are the extended unemployment benefits, which in many parts of the country are paid more than the part-time and hourly jobs previously held by CDL drivers. Plus, the process of onboarding new drivers has also been even further delayed as many of the certifications and licensing procedures have become backlogged over the past 18 months.

While hiring continues to be a challenge, STA has made significant investments in recruitment initiatives and is optimistic that we will continue to grow our team.

We are running active recruitment campaigns, supported by full-time recruitment and training staff members who are eager to support new candidates through the onboarding process. We are also offering a sign-on bonus for qualified candidates, paid training, and have increased driver wages at our Santa Maria location, and we are continuing to interview new drivers that are looking to make a real difference in the community. Many operators are viewing this situation as a great opportunity and call-to-action for motivated and civic-minded individuals within their communities to support K-12 education as more districts return to in-person learning.

From an operational standpoint, we are communicating with the Santa Maria-Bonita School District on anticipated staffing challenges and are working to analyze bus routes in order to identify ways to further maximize our services. Our organization remains optimistic that through a collaborative effort, we can minimize service disruption and find qualified candidates that are looking for a rewarding career.”

“It takes a special person to want to be a bus driver and we are looking for those special people for our students to work with and get our students to and from school safely,” White said.

School district officials want to remind those at home that since there will be more students walking to school for the remainder of the school year, to be especially cautious and pay attention to speed limits.

Changes won’t impact special education students.

Parents will be notified by their school if any changes are made in regards to bus route changes and bus stops being opened or closed.

As more drivers are hired, changes will be made and more routes will be added. If parents have any questions, school district officials suggest checking in with their specific school office.