Aug 29, 2022 - News

Wake County battles shortage of school bus drivers

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A nationwide shortage of bus drivers means routes are being eliminated, walking boundaries are being expanded and students are facing longer travel and wait times as K-12 schools in North Carolina and across the country are starting up again.

Driving the news: Wake County Public Schools — North Carolina's largest district — will have 52 fewer bus routes compared to last year. That could increase if more positions aren't filled soon.

The big picture: About 88% of schools are dealing with bus driver shortages, according to a survey from HopSkipDrive, a school ride-service company.

  • The driving factors are recruiting issues, low pay and early retirements.

Why it matters: The shortages could hurt student attendance at a time when schools are already trying to make up for learning loss caused by the pandemic.

  • About 67% of schools said they believe there's a direct link between transportation and attendance, and 61% reported having issues with chronic absenteeism, according to HopSkipDrive.
  • Bus driver shortages will mean longer travel times for students, more waiting for buses to arrive and potentially more days without routes at all, if a replacement driver can't be found.

By the numbers: More than 100 bus drivers have resigned in Wake County in the past year, according to WCPSS.

  • Since the start of the pandemic, the number of bus drivers has declined 23.2%, from 729 to 560.
  • More than 1,300 bus driver positions are currently unfilled across the state, according to a North Carolina School Superintendents Association survey of school districts across the state.

Flashback: The driver shortage predates the pandemic.

State of play: School boards have been bumping up bus driver salaries and offering incentives.

  • Wake County's school board has proposed paying $17.20 per hour with a sign-on bonus of $1,200 and giving existing drivers a retention bonus of $1,250.

The intrigue: The pay boost is helping, at least in some districts, but it hasn't solved the problem everywhere.

  • Schools will also have to fill thousands of other positions for teachers and other staff. The state superintendents association reported schools had more than 11,000 vacancies to fill.
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