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DRIVING STUDENTS| How Green Country school districts improved bus driver recruitment

School bus driver staffing.png
Posted at 7:36 PM, Jul 10, 2024

LIBERTY, Okla. — For the past few years, Green Country school districts struggled to have a full staff of drivers.

Shortages led to canceled classes, changed routes, delays and emergency hiring to fill the gaps.

Dr. Phillip Garland is not a school bus driver, but he used to be.
"It was the beginning of me thinking I might be able to work with schools and kids," Dr. Garland said of his job in college, driving school buses in Norman.

He now welcomes kids on campus as superintendent of Liberty Public Schools. He's about to start his final school year.

Many rural Green Country school leaders will agree, bus drivers haven't been easy to come by in recent years.

"It's just harder to find people to take that on and the requirements are more, so it takes a little more of their time. And the requirements are more," Garland told 2 News.

However, that's proven largely a different story this summer throughout the area: districts prioritized hiring drivers and keeping them.

As of July 10, Liberty reports a full-time staff of two drivers plus athletic coaches, and Copan Public Schools told 2 News it has ten drivers total.

In larger districts there is still a need for drivers:

  • Tulsa Public Schools staffs 150 drivers and still need 15 drivers, plus assistants and mechanics
  • Union Public Schools is nine drivers short
  • Broken Arrow Public Schools staffs 100 drivers and 12 mechanics and needs seven drivers and five mechanics

WATCH: In 2022, Union offered incentives to attract bus drivers.

Bus driver shortage at UPS

TPS Director of Recruitment Jen Sanders explained what works for them.

"One of the unique things that Tulsa Public Schools does is we actually provide the training for folks to get their CDL, so they don't have to pay for that additional training," Sanders said. "Currently, our bus drivers can make up to $19 an hour depending on their experience."

TPS hosted a hiring fair on July 10, but Sanders said districts are almost always open to good candidates to take the wheel.

"(July 10) is not a deadline at all," Sanders added. "We actively recruit all year long for these positions."

Garland said smaller districts likely have less money to offer incentives but do provide benefits to keep the wheels – and drivers - on the bus going round.

"I never miss an opportunity to ask people, 'Hey, how about driving a school bus for us?'"
So why is there a shortage?

The Economic Policy Institute found school bus drivers make much less money than other workers. In 2022, a driver made about half the salary of an average worker. The last time school bus drivers got a significant boost in pay nationwide was in 2008.

Age, retirement:
School bus drivers are typically older than other types of workers so they were more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, and many may have retired around the start of the pandemic.

Once school campuses reopened, the think tank also reported increased confrontations with students and parents, which is another possible deterrent.

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