In the school year where most things have returned to normal after the pandemic, there are still challenges such as the nationwide shortage of school bus drivers both nationally and locally.
The bus driver shortage is nothing new this year, but it is something that has escalated since the start of the school year. In fact, most of the time schools may find themselves slightly short on bus drivers at the start of the year, but nationally it is estimated that provinces are 30-50% short of drivers at this time this year.
The shortage is believed to be caused by many of the same things that have caused the overall labor shortage, including low pay, stress and general concerns about the pandemic. Variants of COVID-19 still exist, and a school bus is one of the many places where the disease can spread most easily.
Locally, at Panama Central School, the shortage is hitting schools in a similar way across the country.
“It affects Panama like most schools” said former Superintendent of Panama Bert Lictus. “We have spoken to local people who might be interested in driving for us. We are working to be able to help with training and certification. We hope it will work, but it’s not an easy fix. It can take a long time to train as a bus driver. It’s a difficult situation.”
To be a bus driver, one must have a professional driver’s license with a “small” or school bus endorsement. ONE “PI” or passenger validation is also required. The state is currently waiving the 14-day waiting fee between the written exam and driver’s test for those working to earn their CDL license to help address the shortage.
At Randolph Central School, concern about the shortage is high, but the school is willing to work to help those interested in training to fill the positions.
“Randolph Central School, like all other districts, is concerned,” Superintendent Kaine Kelly said. “We’ve been taking proactive measures over the last two or three years to train drivers to keep the roster full. Right now we only have the amount needed to start the school year. We don’t have excessive drivers. I posted this as a permanent job for those willing to train. We accept everyone who is licensed and able to drive and we are willing to work with them to get there. We also have a contract where drivers have to drive a certain amount of time with us.”
Even in areas that are doing well with the number of drivers right now, there is still a need for more.
“We’re doing well this year, although it was a challenge last year.” said Cassadaga Valley Superintendent Chuck Leichner. “We’re well staffed this year, but we could always use a little more. For now, however, we are ready.”
Some school districts, like Westfield, also don’t have a significant shortage right now.
“We’re lucky we don’t have any major shortages at the moment” Superintendent Mike Cipolla said. “We try to have plenty of substitute drivers available. We offer driver training as well, but at the moment we are adequately staffed and able to handle all of our needs.”
And yet for other local school districts the struggle continued.
“We’re down three drivers from the start of the year,” said Bemus Point Superintendent Joseph Reyda. “We continue to look for interested parties. We do our best to work with parents to get children to and from school in each building each day. The sporting events and after school activities at Maple Grove are a big challenge.”