A critical shortage of bus drivers across the nation is going to lead to some issues for the coming school year, and Delaware has not found itself immune to the decreasing availability of drivers.
"Delaware has been facing it the last few years," said the Department of Education's Tyler Bryan, Education Associate for School Transportation. "When COVID-19 came along, it made that shortage increase. A lot of our drivers are at the high-risk category for COVID-19, so they decided to stop driving school buses last year."
While schools were able to get creative last year between building closures and hybrid reopening models throughout the course of the pandemic, Bryan told WDEL's Chris Carl the coming year presents a host of its own new challenges.
"The contractors and districts are trying to fill the spots. Unfortunately, right now, we're having a limited number of applicants come to go through the training process, because we're now competing with a lot of employers in the area who are also desperate for employees," he said. "We are trying to get the word out that we need more bus drivers and aides to help get our kids to school. If they want a rewarding career, this is one that we can give that can help the future continue learning."
While the department tried to keep the drivers it did have prior to the pandemic engaged throughout to keep them ready for a return to in-person learning, Bryan said numbers have simply dipped too drastically and districts are facing shortages across the board.
"Right now we're hearing anywhere from five to 20 drivers short in a district," Bryan said. "We don't know actually the ones that are hurting the worst at this point, because we're gathering the data. But I would say the trend appears to be the larger the district, the larger the shortage--because, obviously, they have more buses to cover than a district that's smaller."
While the department brainstorms solutions and awaits more candidates, one immediate solution is simply that the drivers who are available will be asked to take on more work, though there's also now a reward program for driver's doing more driving.
"One of the first ways they're going to look at is, what routes can be paired up or tiered together," he said. "A lot of districts have staggered their time so that they can do multiple levels of transportation, so that bus can serve two or three schools...We have a tier allowance that went into effect that helps compensate the drivers for these extra tier routes they do, to compensate them fairly for the time they're putting in to drive these extra routes, which is definitely going to be great that it's starting because it's going to help those drivers who are going to probably have to take on a little bit more time behind the wheel."
There are qualifications to which applicants must adhere if they wish to be a bus driver:
- Must be 18 years or older
- Obtain a CDL
§ Individual will have to study the CDL manual and pass knowledge test at DMV to receive permit
§ Districts/Employers will provide trainers to teach the skills needed to past the road test at DMV
- Complete a Delaware School Bus Driver Background Check
- Complete Child Protection Registry
- Pre-Employment Drug Testing
- Delaware School Bus Driver Physical (w/tb screening)
- Complete Behind the Wheel Training
- Attend Delaware School Bus Driver Training School 2-day class (Offered in each county monthly)
- Disqualifying Factors
§ Not have more than five (5) points (full point value) on the applicant’s three (3) year driving record. NOTE: Recalculated points and the Defensive Driving Course three (3) point credits do not apply to (S) endorsement holders in meeting this requirement.
§ Not have had the applicant’s license suspended, revoked or disqualified in this State or any other jurisdiction for moving violations in the last five (5) years. This five (5) year period will begin from the date the suspension, revocation or disqualification has been cleared. Certified driving records from other jurisdictions may be requested from these applicants for the DMV to verify compliance with this section.
§ Never been convicted of any crime under the laws of this State or any other jurisdiction as specified in 21 Del.C. §2708(b)(7).