NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A shortage of school bus drivers across North Texas has students showing up late to class, spending hours commuting every day, or scrambling to find a ride home.
It’s a nationwide problem local school districts are working to solve.
At Princeton High School, Eric Lockman coaches basketball and teaches career prep, but increasingly this year he’s taken on a third role as a substitute bus driver.
“I may get a call at 10:30 in the morning or lunch time, and somebody is asking me, ‘are you available to drive the bus today’,” said Lockman.
He used to get a call to help out one to two times a year.
Now it comes one to two times a week.
Like school districts nationwide, Princeton has struggled to hire drivers.
This year, it raised its pay for bus drivers from $17.50 to $22 an hour, offered a thousand dollar signing bonus, and, for the first time, paid applicants to get their commercial driver’s license. It’s still short staffed.
“It’s obviously the kids and parents that are suffering,” said Lockman.
With two drivers out sick one morning, the district warned of extreme delays in pickup, a problem that’s occurred several times already since school began.
A Twitter page for the Carroll ISD Transportation Department reveals similar issues with regular notices of routes “with no available driver” and busses running as much as an hour and a half late.
In Garland ISD, meanwhile, mechanics are dropping their tools to drive bus routes.
The district says it’s advertising its 22 open positions widely. More drivers would mean more routes with fewer stops and shorter commutes.
“Just those 22 drivers is the difference between a kid being on a bus for an hour, you know, rather than half an hour,” said Shelley Garrett, Assistant Superintendent of Safety & Operations.
Garland is offering drivers pay starting at $21.21 an hour, full-time benefits for the part time gig and a two thousand dollar bonus. It’s going even further, though, to establish its own driving school, so that it can train, test, and certify drivers for their CDL in house.
“We’re going to become a third party vendor of that test. So we will hold your hand, take you to the test. I will personally make you a pie,” said Garrett.
Doing so, she says, will reduce delays in the licensing process and the chance a driver will decide to go elsewhere.
“We don’t want them to get away from us. You know, really,” she said.
The struggle to hire drivers, she says, isn’t new and it’s unclear how it’ll be solved in the future.
With more families moving to North Texas, demand for drivers to get their kids to school is likely to keep growing.
To apply to become a driver for Garland ISD, click here.
To apply to become a driver for Princeton ISD, click here.