September 28, 2021

Ahead of the curve

Cortland County school districts not facing a driver shortage

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

A Cortland school bus heads down Pendleton Street on Monday in Cortland. While school districts across the nation have faced a shortage of bus drivers, Cortland County has not.

Yellow school buses rumbled down Pendleton Street in Cortland on Monday, delivering kids home after a day of school.

It’s a common sight during the school year, but districts across the country have struggled to hire drivers since the pandemic began due to a shortage of workers.

However, school districts in Cortland County haven’t faced the shortage for full-time drivers, district officials said Monday.

“We have all of our routes filled at this moment and we’re happy about that,” said Robert Edwards, the superintendent for the Cortland Enlarged City School District. The district has 21 full-time and five substitute drivers, enough to cover all the main routes.

The district, though, is still looking for substitute drivers to cover for daily routes or for extracurricular activities like sports.

Incentives have been used in districts across the country to hire bus drivers.

A school district in Montana offered $4,000 in bonuses to get drivers while a district in Delaware offered to pay parents $700 to take care of their own transportation needs.

Incentives like those haven’t been offered in Cortland County, rather districts like Cortland will pay people to train to get their commercial operator’s license, said Jordon Lilley, the transportation supervisor for the city school district.

After receiving their licenses, the district takes them through the rest of the process to become qualified and ready drivers, he said.

“It’s a fairly substantial investment for the district and after the process we hope they stay,” he said.

Typically, getting a person ready and able to drive kids in buses takes about two months, he said.

Those who do become full-time drivers are entitled to the health insurance benefits and are enrolled in the state retirement system likeother school staff.

Other districts, such as Marathon, have been able to fill their full-time staffs, but the district’s location can make hiring a challenge, said Rebecca Stone, the superintendent for the Marathon Central School District.

“That position is a difficult position to fill during COVID time or non-COVID times,” she said.

Being a rural school district means that there are fewer people to choose from and fewer people coming from outside the town, she said.

The district, like Cortland, will pay to get drivers trained and, also like Cortland, is looking to hire substitute drivers.

People looking to become a school bus driver should be fully invested in the job, Lilley said.

“You have to want to be a school bus driver,” he said. “It’s a very rewarding job. You’re the first person from the district they see and the last.”