Amid a nationwide bus shortage, students across the county waited as long as an hour in the rain for their morning school bus to arrive.
Wayde Byard, the school district’s public information officer, said that there was an unusually high number of bus driver absences, exacerbating a long-standing issue in the county. About 30% of the general education and Thomas Jefferson High School bus runs were 45 minutes, and Academies of Loudoun routes ran as long as an hour behind schedule.
Day-of personnel absences leave the district transportation staff little time to reshuffle driver assignments and routes. When enough of those absences occur, district staff with commercial driver’s licenses will step in and cover routes.
The delays are emblematic of an issue that has plagued the district since before the pandemic began.
“Driving a school bus is a highly technical job that requires extensive training, background check, drug testing. etc… Additionally, it’s not a full time, 8-hour job with most drivers working three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon with a mid-day break, thus resulting in a smaller paycheck than a normal eight-hour position, even if that position pays a lower wage,” the Byard said in an email to Loudoun Now.
The district has gone to great lengths to entice potential new bus drivers. The starting wage was increased to $22.16 per hour, and drivers are given a $2,500 signing bonus. Drivers are also being guaranteed an increased number of hours. To appeal to parents, the district allows drivers to bring their children along on their routes. There are also hiring events twice a month at the district’s training center.
School districts across the nation face similar shortages, as drivers retired or found other work when schools closed during the pandemic. In Massachusetts, members of the National Guard are training to drive school buses. Such a measure isn’t an immediate fix, as training for a commercial driver’s license can take several weeks.