During the school year, when most things are back to normal after the pandemic, challenges like the nationwide shortage of bus drivers remain for schools both nationally and locally.
The bus driver shortage isn’t new this year, but it’s something that has escalated since the start of the school year. In fact, most of the time, schools can find themselves slightly short on bus drivers at the very beginning of the year, but nationally, it’s estimated that districts have a 30-50% driver shortage right now this year.
The shortage is believed to be caused by many of the same things that caused the overall labor shortage, such as low pay, stress and general worries about the pandemic. Variants of COVID-19 are still out there, and the school bus is one of the many places where the disease can spread most easily.
Locally, in Panama’s central school, the shortage is affecting schools across the country in a similar way.
“It affects Panama like most schools,” said former Panama Superintendent Bert Lictus. “We’ve been talking to local people who might be interested in riding for us. We are working to be able to help with training and certification. Hopefully it will work, but it’s not an easy decision. Training as a bus driver can take a lot. It’s a difficult situation.”
To be a bus driver, one must have a commercial driver’s license with “with” or school bus permit. A “p” or traveler’s endorsement is also required. The state is currently waiving the fee for the 14-day wait between taking the written and driving test for those working to obtain their CDL license to help address the shortage.
At Randolph Central School, concern about the shortage is high, but the school is ready to work to help those who want to study to fill the places.
“Randolph Central School, like all other districts, is concerned,” Superintendent Kane Kelly said. “We have been taking proactive measures over the last two or three years to train drivers to maintain a full roster. We currently have the necessary amount to start the school year. We have no redundant drivers. I have released it as a permanent job for those willing to practice. We accept anyone who is licensed and able to drive and we are willing to work with them to get there. We also have a contract that the drivers must drive with us for a certain amount of time.”
Even in areas that are doing well with the amount of drivers they currently have, there is still a need for more.
“We are doing well this year, although it was a challenge the previous year,” Cassadaga Valley Superintendent Chuck Leichner said. “We have a good staff this year, but we can always have more. But for now, we’re done.”
Some school districts, like Westfield, also don’t have significant shortages right now.
“We’re lucky we don’t have a significant shortage right now,” Superintendent Mike Cipolla said. “We try to have enough replacement drivers. We also offer driver training, but at the moment we have enough staff to handle all our needs.’
Yet for other local school districts, the fight continues.
“Since the beginning of the year, we have been missing three drivers,” Bemus Point Superintendent Joseph Reida said. “We continue to look for interested parties. We do our best to work with parents to get children to and from school in each building each day. The sporting events and after school activities at Maple Grove are a big challenge.”