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Bus driver shortage made more challenging due to pandemic

Published: Oct. 19, 2020 at 7:55 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - One of the largest southern Colorado school districts needs bus drivers, after years of a shortage and several drivers choosing not to return this year because of pandemic concerns.

District 11 needs 110 total bus drivers to be fully staffed, but they currently have just over 90. Their transportation manager says he just hopes the shortage does not get as severe here as it has in other areas.

“I know in different parts of the country, they have been so short on drivers that they couldn’t actually pick the students up,” said Kevin McCafferty. “You have a little kid on the side of the sidewalk waiting for a bus that is not going to come. We have never been in that situation, and we are dedicated to making sure that does not happen.”

District 11′s deputy superintendent says the age of many bus drivers has been a challenging factor when trying to retain and recruit for the position, given that older people are at higher risk if they catch coronavirus.

“D-11 tends to attract a lot of retired people that are interested in the job,” said Glenn Gustafson. “Because of the pandemic, we are seeing a lot of those people aren’t quite comfortable in coming to those jobs. They do not feel as safe with the pandemic going on right now. We are not allowed to put up shields or barriers in school buses for safety reasons.”

The shortage impacts students and parents by making the walk to bus stop slightly longer for some, officials say. Also, responsibilities have increased this year while starting pay stays at $15.51 an hour.

“Drivers are disinfecting every time a group of kids gets off the bus, so that is disinfecting six times a day. They are doing a deep clean on the bus once a week. They are taking roll call on the bus so we can do contact tracing, so there are a lot of extra duties that they have acquired.”

The transportation office staff who normally field busing questions from parents and schools have obtained their commercial driver’s licenses after administrators requested it so that they can assist in driving routes.

“Not having those people available to do the thing we hired them for is impacting us from a customer service standpoint,” added McCafferty.

District 11 says despite many students doing at-home learning and thus not needing busing this year, it is not enough to offset the need brought on by additional routes. New this year, the district made gifted and talented schools, commonly called magnet schools, accessible to students district-wide. This increased total routes, as well as route times and distances.

That prompted a need for more drivers, and McCafferty says, “I think it will expand more next year.”

District 11 will train and pay for all new hires to receive their commercial driver’s license.

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