Districts start the new year tackling bus problems in different ways

On Aug. 2 Capital School District Transportation Supervisor Bruce Ashby received what he calls “a transportation supervisor’s worst nightmare.”

With students set to return to school on Aug. 25, the district was facing a unique challenge.  One of its school bus contractors went out of business due to financial problems.

Ashby, who made the announcement at the Aug. 17 Capital School District Board of Education meeting, said this put extra pressure on the district to find drivers for the vacant routes.

“How are we going to cover and scramble for drivers and equipment at this late date to be ready for school?” Ashby said.

The last minute closing forced the district to reach out to other contractors, hoping they’d pick up the routes. Usually, a district sends out a bid request and spends two to three weeks looking for the right contractors.  They didn’t have the luxury this time.

Clifton Leasing picked up two routes, Tiffany Hamm-C&T Transportation absorbed one and the district added the other three to its own fleet.

Capital’s bus debacle is a reflection of a national and statewide struggle to find and retain bus drivers. Due to factors such as the cost of maintaining buses and the allure of better paying jobs elsewhere, districts are searching for alternative ways to attract quality bus drivers.

Despite the closing of one contractor, Ashby said the district didn’t have to make any major changes this year.

“We’re OK at this point,” he said. “But that changes all the time.”

While the unfortunate closing of a contractor was an early hit for the district, Ashby confirmed there isn’t a shortage of bus drivers, yet.  In Appoquinimink School District, however, students and families can expect some changes.

“It’s not new to us but last year it hit a climax,” said Bob Hershey, executive director of operations.

Last year, district administrators were holding discussions on how they were going to tackle the shortage of bus drivers. Because of the shortage, students were reported to spend extra time — as much as an hour — waiting on the bus.

Hershey said they’ve sought out an outside consultant who suggested they try something new.

Part of the district’s plan includes seeking potential drivers. They’ve been advertising for bus drivers and advising candidates on how they can obtain a CDL license needed to operate a large vehicle like a bus.

“We’ve done everything we can to continually reach out into the community to spark any interest from someone who might be looking for a job, whether part time or full time,” he said.

Recruitment isn’t the only tool the district is utilizing. They are also consolidating the buses and the bus stops.

“Buses that might not have been filled to their occupant capacity will be filled to that limit,” he said. “Also, at the upper grade levels — middle and high school — we’re consolidating bus stops.”

Once the consolidation is complete bus stops that once had eight or nine kids will potentially have 14 or 16 students.