BUFFALO (WKBW) — In the face of a national bus driver shortage the Buffalo Public School District is working with community members to find solutions to curb the impact here at home.
"There is nothing more important than ensuring that we are getting children to school, and home, safely and timely," says Dr. Tonja Williams, Superintendent for Buffalo Public Schools.
In that vein, leaders at Buffalo Public Schools have formed a committee with community members to take a multi-pronged approach to the bus driver issue. "We have been meeting weekly since early July in identifying what the challenges are," says John Gonzalez, Associate Superintendent of School Leadership.
And the challenges are daunting with the start of school roughly a month away. First Student, which has partnered with BPS to provide student transportation for more than 40 years, estimates the company is about 100 drivers short for the start of the school year.
To help try and bridge the gap the committee is
- Exploring the possibility of reimbursing parents who are able to transport their children to school and home
- Considering creative scheduling opportunities, looking at possibly collapsing the number of bus routes, and weighing the impact of changing start times for school.
- Aggressively addressing the issue of bus driver recruitment and retention
"We have increased our wages", says Rob Hummel, the Senior Location Manager at First Student. "Our starting rate is up by almost thirty percent to $25 an hour. Our senior drivers we have bumped up to $28 an hour"
All positions come with signing bonuses of $3,000 or more, but applicants must pass written tests, a background check, a drug test, and weeks of training before being available to drive for the district.
"Once they start training the perfect candidate is four to five weeks of training," added Hummel.
The district is also strongly encouraging all parents and caregivers to fill out this transportation survey which explores the option of reimbursing families 58-cents a mile to drive their students to and from school.
"That survey is asking our families whether or not that is an option that they are willing to chose," says Gonzalez. "That is probably not going to be the solution. It may be a solution. This is really going to be multiple approaches that are probably going to have an impact"
And while the district stops short of saying they will be dealing with a driver shortage for the first day of school, stakeholders know time is running out to find solutions.
"Will all the decisions happen the first day of school, probably not. Probably not the first day of school. We are in a situation that we are still accepting applications. We are still trying to recruit bus drivers", says Dr. Williams.