Ever thought you’d like to be a school bus driver? Now is the time: School districts throughout the D.C. area don’t have the drivers they need for the new school year.
“We have 50 unassigned routes,“ said Scott Davies, director of transportation for the Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia. “We have plenty of buses, plenty of students that need to be transported — but we are facing a very severe shortage of bus drivers.”
It’s not just a problem for Loudoun County. Fairfax County schools need 190. In Maryland, Frederick County Public Schools is short 25 drivers; Prince George’s County is trying to hire 200 more drivers to fill openings.
Most districts are offering paid training to new would-be drivers.
Loudoun County has been ramping up recruitment efforts, including a larger paycheck. “We just increased our driver pay to $22.16 an hour. That is one of the highest pay rates in the region,” Davies said.
On Friday, the school system also announced a $2,500 signing bonus for new drivers and a $1,000 bonus to school employees who refer a successful driver applicant.
In addition, Loudoun is offering incentives for parents with young children: “If they’re not of school age, you can bring your child on the bus while you work,” Davies said. “We make accommodations for that. It’s a great way to make a salary and provide benefits and avoid child care.”
Davies also said the job is good for those who don’t want to work a long day — the average workday is just five hours.
Loudoun County is not alone in offering incentives to would-be bus drivers. The sign-on bonus is $1,500 in Frederick County and $2,000 in Fairfax County.
Counties are also using cash to encourage current employees to help with recruiting. In Loudoun County, there’s a $500 referral bonus for an employee who refers a new driver. The new driver also gets the bonus. In Fairfax County, successful referrals are worth $1,000.
Even with the incentives, chances are some of these school districts will have to make adjustments to their routes to deal with the shortage.
“In Prince George’s County, our team is very well versed to be flexible and creative to cover routes,” said Dr. Rudy Saunders, the school system’s director of transportation. “Every bus will be covered. We have a lot of people who are in offices and have CDLs, and they will be able to go drive.”
Francine Furby, transportation director at Fairfax County Public Schools, “We are looking at our routes to determine which routes to assign double-backs,” which she defined as “where we pick up kids from a close neighborhood, deliver them to school, then, using the same bus, pick up another group of kids and deliver them before the bell.”
Furby said they will let schools and parents know about any route or pickup changes that have to be made.
In Frederick County, the hiring shortages aren’t just with drivers. Spokesman Brandon Oland said there were also openings in food service and custodial staff. They’re offering the $1,500 sign-on bonus for multiple jobs in the service departments.
Oland said they have been actively recruiting, hosting job fairs and trying to find workers since the winter, but people aren’t looking for job opportunities as they did in the past.
“This is a little more challenging than it has been in past years,” he said. “You see ‘Help Wanted’ signs in a lot of businesses. There are a lot of businesses out there looking for new employees.”