A deficit of school bus drivers has caused nationwide chaos with some educators forced to apologize to parents after their kids reached home after 10pm.
HopSkipDrive, which offers school transportation services, released data that suggests driver shortages are on the rise with 92 percent of school leaders claiming operation issues as a result.
Kentucky’s largest school district, Jefferson County, attempted to alter bus routes and stagger start times to cope with the issue, leading to disastrous results.
A deficit of school bus drivers has caused nationwide chaos with some educators forced to apologize to parents after their kids reached home after 10pm
The overly-ambitious redesign of bus routes for Louisville’s school district turned into a logistical meltdown on the first day of classes, forcing schools to close.
Parents were fuming and some state politicians pressed for changes in the sprawling urban district after some of the 96,000 students didn’t get picked up for school in the morning or came home hours late – with some arriving after dark.
‘They had all summer to get this figured out and they couldn’t figure it out,’ said Berkley Collins, a mother of two students in Jefferson County Public Schools.
Another appalled parent, Beau Kilpatrick, said one of his young daughters was covered in urine when she finally arrived home at 9:15 p.m. He called it a ‘complete failure’ by the district.
‘They were hungry,’ he said of his two elementary-age kids. ‘They were thirsty. They couldn’t use the bathroom. They were scared because they just wanted to get home.’
On a day that started with so much excitement for the start of a new school year, his children arrived home heartbroken, Kilpatrick said. He was heartbroken, too.
‘I said it from the very beginning, I take responsibility for it myself,’ district Superintendent Marty Pollio said at the time, repeating his earlier apology to families, bus drivers and school staff.
He said the district should have anticipated that the new plan didn’t leave enough time for busses to get from stop to stop, especially on the first day of school when delays are bound to happen.
The overhaul was intended to solve a basic math problem for the district.
Last school year, it didn’t have enough drivers to cover all the routes and as a result, thousands of kids missed considerable amounts of instructional time as some drivers made double and triple runs.
The redesigned plan shrunk the number of bus routes in response to that driver shortage.
District Superintendent Marty Pollio apologized for delays after children returned home late or were left stranded
Pollio said the district will have to stick with the new plan, which he admitted ‘isn’t perfect.’
‘But it’s going to be much more efficient, and our communication will be much better with families and schools,’ he said.
‘We want to make sure we get that right before we put the kids back on a school bus again.’
The district has 65,000 bus riders, according to its website.
In assessing fault for the opening day fiasco, the superintendent said he’s ‘not going to put it on the company,’ referring to AlphaRoute, adding that it was more a problem with implementation.
Pollio also emphasized that he wasn’t blaming bus drivers, and district officials have acknowledged the system faced a ‘big learning curve’ in carrying out the new plan.
Many other districts across the country are experiencing similar bus driver shortages.
Columbus City Schools in Ohio experienced its own upheaval in 2022 that led to mid-school year changes in its transportation plan, which it blamed on its own driver shortage as well as issues with a new software system.
After the first day fiasco, the district reported that the last student was dropped off by 7:43 the following week when classes resumed.
But reports from the route were scattered, including for two of Keeley Finn’s children.
Finn said two of her three children rode the bus last Friday morning, and although the buses arrived about 10 minutes late, both children arrived at school long after it had started.
Her 11-year-old son arrived at school at 9:30 am, she said.
‘School starts at 8 a.m. and is only about a 12 minute drive from our house,’ Finn said.
Her 13-year-old daughter has a longer commute, including a bus transfer, but actually arrived earlier – 44 minutes after the start of school, Finn said.
She thinks the transportation problems could be alleviated by increasing bus driver pay.
‘They have a really hard job. They really do,’ she said.
‘They put up with some very challenging behaviors. They deserve to be paid fairly for what they do.’
Berkley Collins, whose middle school daughter arrived home two hours late on the first day of school, said she arrived home 30 minutes early on Friday.
‘She just came on in the house,’ she said of her sixth grade daughter, Emma. ‘I’m hoping she has the same experience on Monday.’
But problems persist for her younger daughter, Arai, who hasn’t had a bus assigned to take her home from her elementary school. She missed school Friday.
Collins spent Friday morning calling school officials and said she was told her daughter may not have a daily bus ride available for her until early next month.
‘It makes me feel like her education isn’t important,’ Collins said. She said she was told the school would forgive her daughter’s absences.
HopSkipDrive, a ride service for kids, found that 92 percent of school leaders reported that bus driver shortages constrained their operations, up from 88 percent in last year’s report and 78 percent in 2021.
‘There’s been a challenge recruiting new drivers for years and years, and we had a massive group of drivers leave the industry due to the pandemic,’ Joanna McFarland, HopSkipDrive’s CEO and co-founder, told Axios.
CEO and executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, Molly McGee-Hewitt, said there was a shift among drivers who had driven part time previously.
‘Because people were working split and limited shifts, many of them weren’t eligible for benefits in their school district, or they were eligible for a limited amount of benefits, and so people needed more hours,’ McGee-Hewitt told the outlet.
The average salary for a school bus driver is $42,000 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for May 2022.