Big Country schools dealing with bus driver shortage

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ABILENE Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — The effects of a national bus driver shortage are being felt right here in Big Country School districts. Officials from Wylie, Abilene, and Colorado City say the labor shortage is nothing new, but the pandemic certainly hasn’t made it easier.

“You know if somebody has signs or symptoms they can’t come to work until they get tested, so that might take them out of a route for a half of a day or a full day or whenever those results get back,” said Wylie Assistant Superintendent and head of school operations Craig Bessent.

Though pay for Certified Drivers License (CDL) owners was already competitive due to competition from the oil field and trucking industry, the labor shortage and pandemic have some schools getting creative to fill the drivers’ seats.

“We have some incentives in place for after they’ve been with us a certain period of time. We also have finding bonuses for people that refer bus drivers to us,” says Abilene ISD Superintendent Dr. David Young.

Even offering to hire uncertified drivers and get them their CDL so that the kids can get back to school quickly and safely.

Dr. Young says his district is in need of at least six drivers to get back to full staff. Without the extra cushion of fill in drivers, staff is being stretched thin. Some even having to combine their routes with others resulting in longer than normal ride times for students.

“I heard from some at Cooper yesterday that missed the entire day because of that. We’re not going to negatively impact kids for that experience. That’s on us,” Young said.

Colorado ISD superintendent Reggy Spencer paints a similar picture for his district.

“We can’t find bus drivers, so if you want to get your CDL we will hire you tomorrow,” Spencer says.

This driver deficit has some district staffers stepping up and sitting down behind the wheel. It’s a practice that’s been around for some time, but is in much higher demand now.

“Mr. Light, our superintendent: certified bus driver. He drives a route every day. Terry Hagler, one of our assistant superintendents also drives a bus. Ricky Bacon, one of our principals, also drives a bus. So our administrative staff, if they’re not directing traffic after school, they’re driving school buses,” Bessent says.

It’s a way of operating that more and more districts are considering to get their kids to school.

“We have enough bus drivers to have things covered when things go perfectly, but if four walked up and said, ‘We’re looking for a job driving a bus,’ we’d hire them,” said Dr. Young.

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