There is a crisis happening in school districts across North Texas and beyond: a shortage of bus drivers.
It has gotten so bad, there are confirmed reports of students waiting hours before and after school for a bus in some districts.
But the solution to this all could be as simple as a job application.
"We need bus drivers just really desperately," said Raul Pena, Chief Talent Officer for Fort Worth ISD. "Kids need to go to school and have a great experience."
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His district is one of many feeling the pain of the bus driver shortage affecting the nation, as they search high and low to fill 100 bus driver positions.
Pena said there are more than 40 bus routes that don’t have an official driver. But he said the district is doing everything it can to get by, including sending other staff within the bus barn to step in and cover routes.
"We have folks working overtime, and anyone that's in the bus barn that has their license certainly jumps on, like the dispatchers," Pena said. "So they jump on and take routes as needed. So it's kind of a collective approach."
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Some of the other bus drivers are finishing their regular routes then going back and working overtime to cover the ones that don't have a driver. This has led to a longer wait time for some students on certain routes.
The district has also streamlined routes and is even asking teachers and coaches with a commercial drivers license, or any employee who wants to make extra money, to help drive buses. Officials are also considering other ideas like have one bus transport students from multiple elementary schools to further streamline the effort and make the most of existing drivers.
Pena said parents have been notified about the issues so that they can make other arrangements, if possible. He added the district is working very diligently to address the shortages.
“Aside from having grace and understanding, we want them to know we are very intentionally and deliberately seeking bus drivers and making sure that that our students are safe when they're on our schools and that is a collective effort,” Pena said. “Our principals, school administrators, and our teachers are going above and beyond. In case bus drivers are late or most routes are late due to the shortage of drivers on certain dates, keeping parents informed is our top priority.”
Fort Worth ISD is far from alone. Officials say this is happening to school districts across Texas and the country due to the so-called “Great Resignation” and huge shifts in the labor market from the pandemic.
"I think this is probably more of a global and national issue that we need to just really continue to talk about,” Pena said. “And how we're going to continue to invite people back and let them know that that these are great jobs. It's a great profession. But it's got to be in your heart as well."
Closures during the pandemic also put CDL training and tests on pause, affecting the stream of new drivers over the last two years that would normally help ease the strain.
Fort Worth ISD has taken things up a notch to get bus drivers, becoming one of the highest paying districts in DFW.
Starting pay for bus drivers increased from $18.40 to $22 per hour, with opportunities to make up to $26.97 an hour. New hires are eligible for a $1,000 sign on bonus.
There's also a ‘Welcome Home’ bonus of $500 if you’re a former Fort Worth ISD graduate.
Bus attendants now get $13 an hour and are eligible for all the same bonuses.
But despite huge bonuses and other incentives for new hires, Pena said it’s not enough.
"We have these big money carrots and nobody's biting,” he said. “So we're wondering what's going on and as we continue just to read what's happening throughout the country, other school districts and across just businesses in general. There's just been this mindset shift in terms of returning back to work."
Several school districts in the Metroplex also reporting bus driver shortages.
Dallas ISD for example needs 45 bus drivers to cover several routes. It’s offering hundreds of dollars worth of incentives and other perks if hired. Click here to apply.
There is an upcoming DISD Job Fair on Saturday, May 14th at 5151 Samuell Blvd. from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. with onsite interviews. If unavailable, candidates can schedule interviews by clicking here.
Frisco ISD is also missing about a fourth of its bus drivers to be fully staffed, with 54 openings that need to be filled. It’s paying $19.50 an hour and is offering extra money, health/dental benefits, and other incentives. Click here for more information.
Many districts are also covering the costs of training and tests if you don't have your CDL yet, so be sure to ask about that if you're applying for a job.