COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Columbia Public Schools is facing an extreme shortage of bus drivers, part of a trend being seen nationwide, the district's superintendent said Monday.
CPS Superintendent Brian Yearwood outlined the shortage during a presentation about the district and the coronavirus pandemic during a Columbia Board of Education meeting.
"The biggest challenge, one that we really need a lot of help with, is the challenge of hiring and keeping our bus drivers," Yearwood said.
Leanne Geiss is a mother with children that attend Columbia Public Schools. She says she can adjust to the constant bus changes now, but she knows soon it won't be so easy.
"I know there's going to come a time where we're not going to have another option, and I worry about that because I don't know what I'm gonna do if I have to leave my job in the middle of the day to pick up a child. Especially with my younger kids who can't be left home alone," Geiss said.
Yearwood said the bus driver shortage is an obstacle for the school district affecting service to students. "Without our bus drivers, we are not able to get our scholars to school," Yearwood said.
CPS currently alerts parents if there are changes in the bus schedule. Geiss said that single-parent homes or individuals with demanding jobs might have a harder time adjusting to this new demand.
"If you're a single parent or a health care provider, what are you suppose to do. If you're in surgery and you know your child is getting out of school, I mean, what are you suppose to do," Geiss said.
Yearwood said flyers would be sent out, including information about bus driver pay. He said this is the best time for anyone to apply if they are interested in driving a school bus. Drivers start at $16.25 per hour with benefits. CPS contracts its bus services through Student Transportation of America.
David Prince, STA'S Vice President of Operations, says the waiting period for new drivers to take the driving portion after passing their written test slows the time down to get new school bus drivers in seats. "We have our drivers ready probably within three days after them passing their written test, but right now, they have to wait 14 days. If we can get that dropped, we can get more people into the system much faster," Prince Said.
The need for drivers is so big that Yearwood said he might have to trade in his office for a bus driver seat. "I'm thinking about driving the bus myself; it can be fun," Yearwood joked.
Schools around the country are reporting bus driver shortages as the coronavirus pandemic continues to depress the labor market. In Massachusetts, National Guard members are driving buses. Half of the school administrators described the shortages as "severe" or "desperate," NPR reported in a recent survey.
Michelle Baumstark, Columbia Public Schools chief communications officer, sent out an email to CPS families addressing the need for more drivers.
She said with fewer available bus drivers at STA; there may not be enough drives to cover all the routes. In some circumstances, buses will not run a specific route or run very late.
Baumstark asked for the help of the community in her email. She said, "If you’ve ever considered driving a bus, we urge you to apply. Complete the online application to begin the process. STA offers CDL license training and driving job training, among other workplace benefits," Baumstark said.
She said they would continue to address the issue and ask for families' patience and support when they work through the problem.