School districts from coast to coast are struggling to hire enough bus drivers coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This has been the perfect storm,” says Curt Macysyn, the Executive Director of the National School Transportation Association.
Most school districts say they had a huge problem attracting and retaining drivers before the pandemic – but now their job is even more difficult. “We’re competing with other school districts. We’re competing with FedEx, we’re competing with Amazon,” says Danielle Floyd, General Transportation Manager at the School District of Philadelphia. She points out that the job requires a commercial driver’s license and a natural ability to connect with kids.
“I see signs all the time for people wanting to hire drivers,” says Jeremy Hallorai of upstate New York. “If we don’t have them then we are not going to be able to get our kids to school back and forth,” adds Hallorai.
The shortage is such a big problem, many districts across the nation have had to get pretty creative. In addition to offering attractive employment packages for potential drivers – which include competitive hourly pay, health benefits and flexible schedules – some districts like Fairfax, Virginia, are offering $2,000 signing bonuses for drivers. Other districts are so desperate that they are offering to pay parents to drive their own kids to school. One school in Delaware is offering $700 per child.
Mandatory drug testing forms are another roadblock for hiring drivers. Because more than a dozen states have legalized marijuana, many districts find that candidates are not able to pass the initial drug test or the random drug tests that take place during the job tenure.
“Unfortunately, if they get that in their system, we have to test them out so they can’t drive,” says John Benish Jr., COO of the Cook-Illinois Corporation, which owns 18 school bus subsidiaries. “We’ve had quite a lot of people fail the drug test,” adds Benish.
The National School Transportation Association (NSTA), where Benish serves as the president, supports S. 1557, the National Signing Bonus Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., would redirect the expanded pandemic unemployment benefits from the CARES Act and other COVID-19 relief bills to individuals who get a job as a federal signing bonus equal to 101 percent of two months of unemployment, to be paid over the course of multiple payments.
“NSTA applauds Sen. Sasse and the states of Alabama, Montana and South Carolina, for taking proactive steps to provide tangible incentives for candidates to enter or re-enter the workforce,” Carina Noble, senior vice president of communications and external affairs for National Express and president-elect of the NSTA, said in a statement.