Bus driver shortage forces school districts to consolidate, cancel routes

School bus lot in Cincinnati
Posted at 11:18 PM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-22 00:07:09-04

INDEPENDENCE, Ky. — Though school districts are well into the academic year, many continue to struggle with bus driver shortages.

While Jim Hale is no stranger to driving buses, the duty is not listed in his job description as the Kenton County School District's transportation director. Still, he's been behind the wheel this year.

"Every person in our department that holds a CDL has been driving a school bus this year," Hale said. "I drove yesterday afternoon — that is not as common, but has become more common."

Hale said the shortage has gotten to the point where the district is consolidating routes, which took down the need for drivers.

"It kind of helped keep us above water so to speak," Hale said.

Across the river in Ohio, Northwest Local Schools has started canceling some routes. The district runs six routes per day out of 150, rotating those routes day-by-day to try and minimize the impact for individual families.

"That is an obstacle for our kids and our families and we know that we don't take that lightly," Superintendent Darrell Yater said.

The districts are still trying to hire more drivers, with Kenton County hosting open interviews Thursday in hopes of addressing the shortage.

"This has been going on for quite some time and the Kenton County School District has been very proactive," said Jess Dykes, the district's director of public information and community engagement.

Kenton County has started purchasing larger buses to accommodate more students, while Northwest Local Schools have both increased the starting wage for drivers and offered paid training. Northwest also announced it is offering a $1,000 signing bonus for new drivers.

"The driver shortage is not a new problem, what is new is the compounded piece because of COVID," Yater said. "We're noticing a workplace shortage pretty much everywhere you go, and every position that you're trying to fill."

Kenton County said, so far, COVID-19 has not had an impact on its shortage. Anyone interested in becoming a bus driver with the Kenton County School District is asked to visit the district's transportation page. Those interested in driving for Northwest Local Schools can apply online here.