October 16, 2021

City schools lacking drivers

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Buses leave Cortland Junior Senior High School Feb. 27. The district, like others throughout the state and country, is facing a shortage of bus drivers.

The Cortland Enlarged City School District used to have a good size pool of bus drivers to pull from, said Kimberly Vile, the district’s business administrator. That pool has gotten a lot smaller in the last few years.

“It’s continually getting worse,” she said. The shortage has meant cutting bus routes and filling buses to max capacity, so children have to ride on the bus longer.

The district isn’t alone with the problem.

A report by the by the New York State School Boards Association, New York Association for Pupil Transportation and National Association for Pupil Transportation found that 74%, of New York’s school transportation directors had unfilled school bus driver positions at some point during the 2017-18 school year. More than one-quarter of school districts, 27%, had as many as 11% to 20% of unfilled school bus driver positions.

The problem exists around the nation, too. School districts in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Missouri, Indiana, Virginia, Michigan and Georgia all report shortages.

The shortage of school bus drivers in New York is a problem in all regions of the state, the school boards association reports, although some regions were affected more than others. In every region north of New York City, at least 72% of transportation directors said driver shortage was their No. 1 problem or a major problem.

Not every district in Cortland County is facing a shortage of drivers, though. Neighboring Homer Central School District has been unaffected by the shortage of drivers, Thomas Turck, the district’s superintendent, said.

Homer Central School District has 29 full-time bus drivers with four substitutes, Turck said. The district’s transportation secretary and transportation supervisor are also certified to drive buses if needed.

Turck credits a good working culture of listening to the drivers’ needs that has led to dedicated drivers staying for many years as part of the reason why the district hasn’t faced shortage issues.

The district, though, is always interested in hiring more substitute drivers.

“We always have our ear to the ground for people who could potentially drive for us,” he said.

Cortland’s school district has 16 bus drivers but realistically needs 25, Vile said.

District mechanics have filled in as bus drivers to try to alleviate the need, Superintendent Michael J. Hoose said.

“We just don’t have the drivers we need,” he said.

Vile said that long training requirements have helped contribute to the district’s shortage. She said it can take at least six weeks of training to get a commercial driver’s license required for bus driving.

After getting a commercial driver’s license, potential bus drivers must then get a passenger endorsement and subsequently a school bus endorsement to drive a bus, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles’s website. Drivers cannot apply for the school bus endorsement unless they already have a passenger endorsement or are applying for both at the same time.

More so, the bus drivers used to be people looking to supplement their income with extra work but due to the higher cost of living, potential drivers are looking to work more hours, she said.

To get more drivers, the district has listed open positions in its newsletter and advertised on its website and on the job application website Indeed, Hoose said.
The district will also pay for training.

The district is also working to combine bus driver positions with others, such as a lunch worker, to help get people who are interested in working longer hours than just however long their bus route is, Vile said.

“We’re looking for any way we can to get bus drivers,” Hoose said. “It’s a good job. It’s just we need people.”