Nationwide school bus driver shortage causing difficulties for some metro districts

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The people who help your kids get to school are running in short supply. Park Hill School District’s bus driver shortage is so bad, it's now forced to cut and consolidate some routes.

Bright yellow buses are a familiar sight outside schools. But in Park Hill, there aren’t enough drivers to get the job done.

“It became critical last week,” said Paul Kelly, Park Hill Schools' business and technology assistant superintendent.

Over the weekend, district leaders were scrambling to find the best quick fix to a crippling driver shortage. Those discussions resulted in seven routes being eliminated. Hundreds of kids were shuffled to other bus routes, tweaking pick-up and drop-off times by a few minutes.

“This is consolidating of routes and ultimately fits within our parameters of safety and getting kids to school on time,” Kelly said.

Park Hill said it would like at least 20 more drivers to adequately fill routes. The demand for drivers is so severe that it violates the district’s contract with First Student and results in a $1,000-per-month fine against the bus company.

But the district knows fines aren't a long-term fix, just an incentive for First Student to do everything possible to fill the gap.

“We’re trying a number of different innovations to try to address that, including recruiting and doing some job shares, those kinds of things to try to address the shortage,” Kelly said.

The district is now promoting bus driver job openings on its social media channels.

On April 1, starting pay for new drivers will jump to $17.25 per hour in an effort to be more competitive with what other districts offer. Park Hill’s looking at ways for some current part-time employees to add bus driving duties so more people could have full-time work with benefits.

This district’s bus center is currently owned and operated by the bus contractor, First Student. The district has plans to build its own transportation hub, which will make it more competitive in bidding bus providers, and that's another step that could help in hiring drivers down the road.

First Student said it's facing driver shortages nationwide, partly because of record low unemployment.

In Park Hill’s case, the company said it has worked collaboratively with the district to make sure all routes were covered and needed adjustments made. The company is currently studying new ways to market employment opportunities and incentivize individuals interested in becoming bus drivers.

You can learn more about bus driver job opportunities here.

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