Central Texas districts need more school bus drivers

Districts across the country are seeing a shortage of school bus drivers -- in some places even calling the shortage "severe" or "desperate."

CENTRAL TEXAS - As parents get their kids ready to go back to class, many districts are still trying to figure out who will drive them there.

School districts across the country are seeing a shortage of school bus drivers. Some places are even calling the shortage “severe.”

Here in Central Texas, a few districts tell KVUE they are in need of drivers.

"One of our most challenging positions to find qualified candidates for is our bus driver positions,” said Corey Ryan with Leander Independent School District.

Right now, the district has 35 vacant bus driver positions.

"What ends up happening in a school district, when we have vacant bus driver positions, is it's all hands on deck," he said. "Mechanics are driving, routers are driving. They are all CDL certified and meet the qualifications to drive. They're all filling in to fill in the gap -- to make sure we're serving kids and families."

At Austin Independent School District, the executive director of transportation, Kris Hafezizadeh, said he still wants to hire another 10 to 15 drivers right now.

“We're okay at this time, but we can always use more," Hafezizadeh said. "We always hope for more. We are hiring still, and we will always hire bus drivers.”

He likes to have a few extra drivers ready to transport the 23,000 students they serve in case someone calls in sick, has a family emergency, or even decides to quit after the first few days of school.

"We had some people that (said) this is not for me," said Hafezizadeh.

Both district representatives said there are a few reasons it can be difficult to hire drivers.

"One of the great things about living in Central Texas is it’s just a great place -- there's high quality of life, we have a booming economy. The challenge is that with the booming economy -- with low unemployment rate -- it's hard to hire for certain positions,” Ryan said.

Ryan said it can be difficult to compete with other job opportunities in a booming economy.

“Our board was proactive by increasing the pay rate for bus drivers by about seven percent," said Ryan.

Leander ISD just increased the pay for their drivers to $15.50 per hour, from the $14.52 last year.

At AISD, Hafezizadeh said they have a starting wage of $15.42 per hour with no experience.

While both districts have programs that allow drivers to get their commercial driver’s license after being hired, they also said it can be difficult to complete the course.

"One of our biggest challenges from a training perspective is that there's only one testing site in our area for DPS, so being able to plot the time to get in is just a challenge," said Ryan.

"The testing, the driving testing of DPS takes longer, cause we've got to get appointments, and it takes longer to get those appointments for them to pass the driving test,” said Hafezizadeh.

So he said they’ve tried to find a solution.

"In our district we've worked out an agreement that we can use our facility to do the driving test for us, and also the districts around us," said Hafezizadeh.

Still, both Hafezizadeh and Ryan said the training and hiring process can take six to eight weeks.

"We do what we can to make sure we have enough drivers,” said Hafezizadeh.

He also said drivers need to be patient, which can be difficult in Austin traffic.

And, the hours can deter some applicants.

"It’s not a full day of work, it's a split day, coming in at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, so it’s a very specific kind of clientele in terms of finding the right fit,” said Ryan.

Hafezizadeh said it takes a certain type of person to be a bus driver.

"Being a school bus driver is not very easy. Number one, you've got to love the kids, you've got to be able to concentrate on the road  and then be able to have 60 kids behind you,” said Hafezizadeh.

Depending on the district, there are different qualifications to apply to be a school bus driver.

"There are many things that a school bus driver's got to go through to become a school bus driver," said Hafezizadeh.

He said the regulations are increasing for bus driver requirements.

In AISD, you cannot have a DWI on your record.

"Their background must be excellent," said Hafezizadeh.

According to Hafezizadeh, applicants go through human resources for a background check, have a series of interviews with supervisors, get finger printed to enter into a national data base and then have to pass a physical to make sure they’re “fit” enough to be a school bus driver.

In Leander ISD, you must be 21 years old, have a GED or high school diploma  and have or acquire a CDL certification.

"Being a school bus driver is not an easy thing to do. You're driving a 40-foot bus, and then there are 60, 70 kids in there. Then at the same time you've got to make sure they're safe inside the bus. You've got to pay attention to the other motorists possibly not paying attention to your bus, so a school bus driver has a lot on their mind," said Hafezizadeh.

A big task districts know someone is ready to tackle.

"If you can do all of that, please go online and apply," said Hafezizadeh.

Because at the end of the day, both districts said they try to do what they can for the students.

"Number one, you've got to love the kids, if you're not into kids, straight up, don't apply because this is not the right job for you," said Hafezizadeh.

"Bus drivers love their job, they love working with kids, they love the opportunity to contribute,” said Ryan.

"If we don't have drivers, if we don't have busses, kids will not go to school,” said Hafezizadeh.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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