GREENSBORO, N.C. — “Where’s our school bus?” “Why is my child’s bus so late?”
These are questions Guilford County parents keep asking two months into the school year.
There is a bus driver shortage and the district is trying to recruit new drivers.
FOX8 sat down with the people in charge of financing and recruiting about the specific plans to get people in those seats.
They are advertising, working to retain current employees, and asking teachers, part-time employees and athletic coaches to get on board.
There are 500 routes, 516 bus drivers and about 35,000 students to take to and from school every day.
“We’re not having a lot of luck hiring new drivers right now,” said Angie Henry, chief financial officer for Guilford County Schools.
It’s a problem the school district was made well aware of in the 2017 review of the student transportation program.
Part of the problem is pay. When a new driver is hired with no prior experience the starting wage is $13/hour and a bonus is not guaranteed.
“Right now we don’t have anything in place. That’s certainly one of the things we’re looking at, we’ll be working with our HR department, our board, to try to see if we can put some incentives in place that can help us again attract and retain bus drivers,” Henry said.
For now, parents like Becky Renteria are left driving their kids to school.
“I just have a hard time figuring out how teachers and coaches are going to be able to manipulate their schedules in order to backfill the very large bus driver shortage,” Renteria said.
That’s what the Guilford County school district is hoping will add some relief.
“We have tried to get the message to parents that we appreciate their patience because we know that there have been some late buses and there will continue to be some as we work through this and try to look at some other options to optimize their operation,” Henry said.
Since the beginning of the school year, only four new drivers have been hired and 38 were needed. Many of those vacancies cause those on the road to pick up routes and work longer hours.
“We’re advertising everywhere we can,” Henry said.
Renteria took the time to follow her son’s bus to school.
“I did follow it to school just to see what time it got there and the students were unloading from the bus and walking into school just as the last bell rang and the morning announcements began,” Renteria said.
FOX8 asked if the school system would ever consider asking parents to drive buses.
“No matter where you live or what part of the county we certainly can use all the help we can get,” Henry said.
Four teachers are already helping with routes and another 20 are interested in getting their state-required CDL license to help pick up part of the load.
“I just worry about again the consistency. Will they have a consistent enough schedule to be a bus driver?” Renteria asked.
This shortage is not unique to Guilford County. It’s a yearly problem in other local school districts and across the country.
Guilford County school leaders are looking to other school districts for ideas on how to better recruit drivers. Another challenge is potential employees getting through the whole process to get that license and get hired. Out of 15 applicants, only four or five may pass.