PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A shortage of bus drivers affected school districts across the U.S. during the 2021-2022 school year and as the first day of the new fall semester approaches this year, some Portland area districts say they could still use more drivers.
The Beaverton School District is short about 10 drivers going into the school year, but Joel Feldhan, the operations supervisor for the district’s transportation department, said that’s much better than 2021 when they started the year 25 bus drivers short.
By January 2021, The Beaverton School District told KOIN 6 News it was averaging 30 to 40 bus driver absences per day out of a staff of about 275 people.
The district made it through without canceling any routes and Feldhan said that’s thanks to their substitutes and other district employees stepping in.
“It required a very heavy lift from a lot of our office staff, even our administrator who went out and drove a bus morning and afternoon every day, just to fill those holes and make sure the kids got to and from school every day,” he said.
Several things contributed to the bus driver shortage, from COVID-19 illness to schools being shut down. Feldhan thinks the pandemic increased the demand for shipped and delivered goods, and jobs with Amazon and UPS appealed to bus drivers who already drove for a living.
To get their drivers back, the Beaverton School District has made some changes.
In July, it decided to increase wages for drivers. The starting wage for drivers is $23.39 per hour. Experienced drivers can earn up to $29.63 per hour.
The district also decided drivers would work 30-40 hours per week, allowing them to be eligible for medical, dental, vision and retirement benefits.
While previously, the part-time work appealed to many retirees, Feldhan hopes the increased hours attract a more diverse workforce.
“We’re open to anybody who enjoys working with kids. You have to love kids to be successful in this job,” he said.
If the district encounters a shortage like the one it faced in the last school year, Feldhan said they’ll once again rely on their pool of substitute drivers.
The district also has a new tablet-based GPS system it plans to use in its buses this year that will help those substitutes. The technology gives turn-by-turn directions for bus routes between stops, making it easier for new drivers to learn their routes.
The Vernonia School District, which postponed its school start date in 2021 due to a bus driver shortage, said it’s heading into the 2022 school year with a full crew. The district could use some more substitutes. Anyone interested should call Shelley Hennessy, the driver trainer, at 503-429-0507.
Like the Beaverton School District, Portland Public Schools said it will be operating just shy of maximum capacity at the start of the 2022-2023 school year. No routes will be canceled, but some may be extended to accommodate staffing shortages.
Anyone interested in becoming a bus driver for Portland Public Schools can apply online. Wages start at $31 per hour with paid training.
“Safe and timely school transportation is our top priority and we will continue building capacity to optimally support our students and families,” Sydney Kelly from the PPS Media Relations Team wrote in a statement.
Parkrose School District is also hiring bus drivers. The district is looking for applicants with good driving records who are at least 21 years old, have a minimum of three years of driving experience and who can pass a Department of Transportation physical examination and random drug tests.
Drivers must also meet the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees of schools.
Wages start between $24.04 and $27.05 per hour, depending on experience. A $2,500 hiring incentive is also available.