With school bus drivers MIA, parents offered $700 to drive kids

Schools across the U.S. are struggling with another impact from the pandemic: a shortage of school bus drivers. The problem has prompted one school to offer $700 to parents who agree to drive their children to school for the year. 

“EastSide wants to pay you $700 for the year for dropping off and picking up each child from school (example — if you have 3 children we would give you $2,100,” according to a notice posted by the EastSide Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware. 

More than 150 parents of the school’s 500 students have raised their hands for driving duty, EastSide chief executive Aaron Bass told The Washington Post. Bass didn’t immediately return a request for comment from CBS MoneyWatch. The school is still offering bus transportation for families that require it, the notice added.

“Delaware is currently facing a bus driver shortage,” the EastSide post noted. 

Delaware isn’t alone. Schools in states including Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia are reporting problems finding enough school bus drivers to transport students. Pittsburgh Public Schools has told more than 800 students that they’ll have to walk to school because they don’t have the bus capacity to drive them, and the school district delayed the start of the academic year because of the shortage, according to CBS News affiliate KDKA. 

“Typically there have been bus driver shortages at the beginning of the school year during the last few years, but the pandemic exacerbated that,” National School Transportation Association executive director Curt Macysyn told CBS MoneyWatch. “We are challenged like a lot of industries are challenged.”

The shortage of school bus drivers parallels industries ranging from restaurants to airline in which businesses say they can’t find enough qualified workers to meet demand. Some school bus drivers have stepped back out of concern over contracting COVID-19, while others retired during the health crisis, Macysyn noted. 

Other school districts are begging parents to drive their kids to school, but without offering any monetary compensation. Chesterfield, Virginia school superintendent Merv Daugherty posted on Facebook that the system was facing a shortage of about 100 bus drivers.

“We’re asking you to please drive your child to school,” he pleaded.

The extra pandemic unemployment aid, which will expire on September 6, may be keeping some drivers on the sidelines, Macysyn added. However, there is little economic evidence that enhanced jobless aid is keeping workers from rejoining the labor market. One study found little difference in job growth between states that cut unemployment assistance early versus those that have maintained the aid.

Because some state Department of Motor Vehicle offices were closed during the pandemic, that created a bottleneck in training new school bus drivers, who need a commercial drivers license to qualify for the job, Macysyn said. And competition from other businesses that need drivers, such as trucking companies, may be luring workers away, he said.

“Six kids at two different schools”

The cuts in school bus service is leaving families frustrated, with Pittsburgh parents telling KDKA that they’re worried and stressed about their ability to get to work and the safety of their children. 

“I’m a mother — a single mother of six kids at two different schools. I work two jobs. I can’t get them to and from school every day,” LaTavia Steel told KDKA.

Some school bus operators are offering signing bonuses, including one district in Vermont that is dangling a $1,000 offer for drivers who stick around for a year and another in Connecticut offering up to $3,000 for experienced drivers. Others are raising wages in a field that typically pays about $16 an hour, according to government data. One New York business is offering $27 an hour, as well as a $2,000 signing bonus, for new school bus drivers. 

Restaurants struggle with food costs, labor s… 01:45

Some schools and school bus operators are appealing to school workers such as cafeteria employees and maintenance workers to add bus driving to their repertoire, while others are reaching out to parents to get behind the wheel, Macysyn said.

School bus driver jobs may present a few drawbacks to people looking for work, since most entail 25 to 35 hours a week, or fewer hours than a typical full-time job. But because of the shortage, drivers are now more likely to pick up extra hours through field trips and extracurricular activities such as sports, Macysyn noted. 

“Anybody who is a school bus driver in this climate can work as many hours as they like,” he said.