New bus drivers arrive in the training pipeline, no longer needed

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Relief is on the way for the shortage of school bus drivers in Loudoun as dozens of new recruits are close to completing their training, but the drivers still need to cover the county’s 519 daily routes.

The driver shortage was a challenge even before COVID-19 arrived, but, during the pandemic, the district lost a significant number of drivers despite being kept on the payroll.

“Nationally, everyone recognizes that there is a shortage of bus drivers, a shortage of truck drivers, a shortage of drivers of all kinds across the country,” said Kevin Lewis, Director operations, to the school board at its October 12 meeting. “I’m delighted that the school board is working to create a more compelling total compensation, from benefits to salaries and that sort of thing. “

Lewis said the recruiting process is endless. For example, during the 2017-2018 school year, there were 82 new hires, while the department lost 44 drivers. The following year was similar, with 81 new hires and 64 drivers retired or other jobs.

Lewis estimates the district is short of 58 drivers and 28 attendants.

The new recruiting tactics started over the summer are working, said Lisa Boland, director of human resources.

The district held hiring events, increased driver wages to $ 22.16 per hour, increased the connection bonus to $ 2,500 and the referral bonus to $ 1,000, and increased the number of guaranteed daily working hours of five to six.

Since the implementation of these measures, the number of interns has doubled, Boland said. There are 49 people who are starting the training and 19 people who are about to start their driving training.

But getting new hires signed is only half the battle. Bus drivers undergo a training program and must obtain a permit from the DMV. Then they have to go through a two-week training process and pass the certified driver’s license test. Only 67% of candidates pass the training.

Then, they undergo 25 hours of driving training, and 10 hours of driving on real routes with students, accompanied by another driver for supervision.

The whole process takes about three months, Boland said. The length of the process and the delays at the DMV for appointments to obtain permits mean that having a pool of qualified candidates is far from an immediate solution.

Lewis pointed out that Loudoun competes with other localities for drivers. A recent study by HopSkipDrive found that 81% of school divisions nationwide are battling the driver shortage.

The nature of the job, which requires employees to work a few hours in the morning, take a break and come back for a few hours in the afternoon, makes it an unconventional work schedule.

The operations department is studying possible schedule changes to reduce the number of drivers needed and maximize the hours available to drivers. One suggestion is to stagger bell hours for elementary schools, so that drivers can take more routes and get more hours on the clock.

Beth Barts (Leesburg) pointed out that changing back-to-school hours could have a negative impact on families.

“We have this in our district and it’s frustrating for some parents. Parents plan their work hours, especially at the elementary level. These children cannot be home alone, ”said Barts.

Loudoun nowreported in September that some students in the district waited up to an hour to get to school at one point. Parents have reported that bus routes have been canceled or have been asked to pick up and drop off their students so the buses can consolidate routes. On days when the number of driver absences is unusually high, staff members and supervisors must use routes.

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