Aug 4, 2022 - News

NWA bus drivers needed before kids go back to school

Illustration of a school bus cut out from a bright yellow background.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Schools in NWA are still short on bus drivers with less than two weeks before kids return for a new academic year.

Why it matters: Although some districts aren't as short on drivers this year as last, parents and students could be looking at another year of disruptions to get to and from school.

Context: Schools nationwide have struggled to employ enough bus drivers since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Massachusetts even had to deploy the National Guard at one point.

  • Schools in NWA canceled some routes last year, and other staff members stepped in to drive buses. Staff, including principals and other administrators, were pursuing commercial driver's licenses so they could drive buses.

State of play: "All routes are currently covered for the start of the school year, but we do anticipate challenges," Charles Lee, assistant superintendent at Rogers Public Schools, told Axios through a spokesperson.

  • Bentonville has five open driver positions, but is still in great shape to start the school year, district spokesperson Leslee Wright told Axios.
  • Fayetteville has six routes without driver coverage, which could change — for better or worse — in time for the start of school, spokesperson Alan Wilbourn told Axios.
  • Springdale needs 10-15 more drivers, spokesperson Trent Jones told Axios.

What's happening: Schools have raised wages for bus drivers and are trying to recruit more while also looking for new ways to ease the burden.

  • Springdale is moving to a fixed route system intended to pick up more students in less time — basically, the routes will have bus stops instead of stopping at individual residences, Jones said.
  • Fayetteville has developed a plan to double or triple-run routes, but students could still be late for school or getting home.

By the numbers: Fayetteville increased starting pay for bus drivers from $14.25 in the 2021-22 school year to $19.30 per hour this year.

  • Bentonville's starting pay is $19.42, an increase from $16.50 last year.
  • Starting salaries for drivers in Rogers are $17,357, up just under $300 from last year. Drivers also receive an attendance incentive.
  • Bus drivers at Springdale start at a salary of $13,910, compared to $13,357 last year. Jones explained that including an attendance incentive, drivers earn $19.45 per hour for each day they work.

Yes, and: Bentonville is the first district in the state to install a software, Transportant, on all its buses, Wright said in an email. The technology allows drivers and parents to see in real-time when a student has boarded or exited a bus.

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