Facing an unprecedented school bus driver shortfall, the Hillsborough County school district held a four-hour transportation job fair on Monday.
Turnout, according to district officials, was sparse.
“This is going to impact kids on a daily basis,” spokesperson Erin Maloney said. “On the first day of school, we certainly will be asking parents to pack their patience. We just don’t have the people.”
She said late buses could be the norm, both to and from school, perhaps for weeks. The district is discussing shifting school start times, though nothing concrete has been determined.
A similar scenario is brewing in Pasco County and across the state of Florida, where schools are finding that people are not wanting to take jobs that carry high responsibility but limited respect and low pay.
Starting bus driver pay in Pasco is $13.40 an hour. In Hillsborough, it’s $14.57 and in Pinellas, $15.19.
“You can go to Target and get a job for $15 an hour,” noted Pasco assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn, who said her district’s shortage is worse than anyone can remember.
Pasco ended the school year down 100 drivers and has yet to fill most of those positions. Currently, it has 53 routes without assigned drivers, and only 13 relief drivers of a desired 43 to cover any overflow.
The number could grow worse, Kuhn said, as the district always loses drivers over the summer and doesn’t learn about it until early August.
Anyone hired now won’t be able to help in time for the first weeks of school because they must go through a training program that wouldn’t have them ready until early September at the soonest.
Pinellas County officials are not sounding nearly as concerned as their neighbors.
“We don’t have a serious shortage,” spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas said.
As of last week, she said, the district needed about 45 drivers, which she said was “pretty usual” for this time of year.
The Pinellas school district will hold a job fair at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Walter Pownall center, 11111 Belcher Road.
Hillsborough has taken several steps to try to fill its positions, including posting ads on social media and reaching out to retired drivers.
But the district still has about 100 routes unfilled and is trying to hire 200 drivers. A year ago, Hillsborough had about 30 routes open at this time.
Last year, the district didn’t need as many bus drivers because many students attended school remotely. This year, most children are returning to in-school instruction.
Most bus drivers pick up routes for an elementary, a middle and a high school each morning. That means that if a driver has to run a double route for one school, the route for the next school on their list could run late, and the third school could run even later.
The districts plan to have hotlines for parents to call with bus-related questions and concerns.
But district officials warn that it may be a rocky road getting to and from school for a while.
“It’s not going to be necessarily smooth as we try to work through these manpower issues,” Maloney said.
• • •
Sign up for the Gradebook newsletter!
Every Thursday, get the latest updates on what’s happening in Tampa Bay area schools from Times education reporter Jeffrey S. Solochek. Click here to sign up.