Glynn County Schools continues to deal with a shortage of bus drivers, the effects of which ripple daily into the lives of students.
The district has not had a fully-staffed team of bus drivers since the start of the new school year in August, although new drivers have been hired since then. As of last week, the district needed about eight drivers to have all bus routes covered.
The district had 69 drivers and an additional 21 who are trained to drive special education buses, said Marlowe Hinson, director of transportation for Glynn County Schools.
Hinson began in the role of transportation director this summer following many years as a school administrator and an educator in Glynn County.
Difficulty retaining drivers is a longstanding issue, said Karen Hurt, the department’s office manager, who has worked with the transportation department for seven years. But the COVID-19 pandemic heightened this challenge, and the district has had a constant driver shortage for the past several years.
Substitute drivers fill in the gaps, and some drivers double up on routes to ensure each one is covered, Hinson said. The school system is responsible for the transportation of around 10,000 students daily.
“We actually have a number of drivers who are substitute drivers who are driving full-time for us right now,” he said. “I’ve got an assistant principal at one of the middle schools who’s driving a route every morning and every afternoon. I’ve got teachers and coaches who are driving routes morning and afternoon.”
Buses are at full capacity, which can also lead to increased discipline issues during rides. All of these smaller problems tend to snowball.
“You have more stress on our drivers, so you have a higher driver burnout,” Hinson said. “As a result of that, you’ll have more drivers needing to take days for health reasons, and then you’re trying to find drivers to double up on routes.”
Those drivers will run a route and immediately begin a second one, and this causes students to be picked up late and arrive at school after the morning bell.
“Especially at the beginning of the year, we had kids who were getting to school late every morning, and it was our fault because we just didn’t have enough people to be able to get to every stop they needed to get to on time,” Hinson said.
Several drivers at the start of the school year were also out due to longterm medical issues. And on any given day, numerous drives may be out sick or away from work for personal reasons, Hurt said.
“It’s a double edged sword whenever you’re dealing with that type of problem because it stresses drivers out, it stresses the parents out and also it puts a burden on the school,” Hinson said.
Other challenges right now include high fuel cost and supply chain issues, which have delayed the arrival of needed new buses.
The job of a bus driver is both challenging and rewarding, Hinson said, especially for those who enjoy working with students.
“I’m always surprised by how my drivers get to know their kids, and they know their parents,” he said. “And if they’re good at developing positive relationships, then it’s a very meaningful calling.”
The job also allows drivers with families to spend more time at home when their children are out of school, because everyone is on the same schedule.
“Being on the school calendar, you’re able to spend time with your children more because you have vacation with them when they’re on break as well,” Hinson said.
Full-time drivers work for two and a half hours in the morning and in the afternoon for a total of five hours a day. They also have summers off and are paid year-round.
Other benefits include insurance for full-time drivers, in-house training for the needed certification, opportunities for bonuses and more.
The pay rate for drivers has also increased in recent years and is now at least $17.50 per hour.
It’s crucial though for drivers to be the right fit for the job, Hinson said, because it’s an important one in the district.
“That person is one of the most important people that a student comes in contact with because they are the first one to say good morning and then the last one to say have a nice evening,” he said. “It’s really important you have somebody that is going to have a positive effect on that student.”
The department is seeking additional drivers, including those without a commercial driver’s license (CDL) who can drive the district’s 14-passenger buses that are used for a variety of purposes.
Job postings can be found at teachglynn.com.