Fairfax Co. faces school bus driver shortage just days before classes start

FAIRFAX, Va. — Fairfax County Public Schools is still looking for more bus drivers, just days before students and teachers return to class.

The D.C. region’s largest school system, with the second-largest public school bus fleet in the U.S., has about 1,200 certified drivers. Transportation coordinator Tom Italiano said the county needs about 100 more to be able to cover all routes each day without using supervisors.

“Yes, there is a shortage,” Italiano said. “If you’re interested, give us a call.”

The school system will train interested drivers who pass background checks and physicals for the jobs that start at $18.82 per hour. The training takes about six weeks.

“Monday we’re looking at putting supervisors on buses, and that’s not a good thing,” Italiano said.

That means supervisors are then not available to fill in with an extra bus in the event of a breakdown and are also less able to fulfill other responsibilities.

School systems nationwide are facing similar challenges. One reason, Italiano said, is that more people have other job opportunities now than immediately following the recession.

Bus changes coming

Drivers in Fairfax County may see buses with longer, more visible stop arms this year as part of a test on ten buses to see whether the change could help keep kids safer.

“It’s more visible from the back and from the side … The initial runs that will go out on Monday are places where we’ve had some situations with cars passing buses, so we try to do whatever we can,” Italiano said.

County police also increase patrols as schools start, with a focus on areas where drivers repeatedly pass stopped school buses.

To catch violators, the county is still considering adding cameras like those already on buses in a number of other jurisdictions in the area.

County attorneys are still reviewing that program, which would be phased in across the school system’s 1,630 buses.

The school system is also testing increased data collection on buses that, among other things, could be used to help clock drivers in and out.

“Hopefully, at some point, we’ll be able to put bus tracking systems out so parents can track the bus and know when their bus is coming. The technology is out there, we’re just trying to phase into it,” Italiano said.

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