WASHINGTON – Parents complain all the time that their children have to get up too early for school and that the bus ride is too long.
Part of the problem revolves around a general shortage of qualified bus drivers that continues to plague D.C.-area school systems.
Most have to raise salaries to compete with each other.
Prince William County, which pays $15.71 an hour, is 40 drivers short. Stafford County which pays just $12.58 an hour is short 20 drivers.
On Wednesday, the Stafford County School District actually had to delay dismissal for some students because there were not enough drivers. Several had called in sick.
School spokeswoman Valerie Cottingim says Stafford County has learned to be creative.
“We have double runs. So for any elementary school, one bus will run two runs out of that,” she says.
Even Fairfax County, which pays $17.63 an hour to start, has trouble recruiting drivers.
Driving a bus is not an easy job. There are split shifts, in morning and afternoon rush hours.
“Can you imagine driving a large bus with 72 children on it through that kind of traffic, every day?” says Cottingim.
In Northern Virginia, where the unemployment rate is 5 percent or below in many jurisdictions, the shortage of bus drivers has worsened. When unemployment was higher, more people were willing to work as bus drivers.
Stafford County has made some of the jobs full time to keep its drivers.
The general shortage of bus drivers may have an impact on the debate over what time of day school starts, how long a bus route is and even where schools are built.