MARION COUNTY, Fla. – Right now, there aren’t enough wheels on the road to go around for Marion County Public Schools.
Parents have noticed, some calling the district to complain about buses being up to an hour late to pick up their students.
“While we are able to get children to schools, we are getting them there late. Many missing their first period class and that is not ideal, that is not our intent,” said Transportation Director Rebecca Rora.
Rora said since the pandemic started, on any given day, the district is down 15-17 bus drivers. She said they’re out because they either have COVID or are in quarantine due to potential exposure. Some drivers resigned for health reasons and there aren’t any backup drivers.
“As more and more children are coming back to school, that struggle has increased,” said Rora. “We either have to split up runs and disperse them among other routes, or we have to double back for runs to get the children to school.”
That’s why Marion County Schools is in the process of hiring 20 new bus drivers, full and part time positions to help fill the gaps created by the pandemic.
“Wanted Immediately - bus drivers” is what the district posted on its website. The district said COVID-19 is creating a dire need for temporary bus drivers. The starting pay for temporary drivers is $15.35 an hour. Rora said that’s an increase in pay for entry-level hires.
“We’re always looking for senior-level drivers with experience. If you don’t have experience, we will train you,” said Rora. “My bus drivers and bus aides are on the front line. They’re the start to education. If we can’t get them on campus, the kids can’t receive the education they deserve.”
The district is hosting a job fair on Wednesday, Feb. 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at CareerSource CLM at 2703 Northeast 14th Street in Ocala.
Prior to attending, applicants should register with www.EmployFlorida.com, search for Job Order 11339589 then follow the application instructions. You can make an appointment for the event by calling 352-840-5757.
Applicants must be at least 21 years of age, posses a high school diploma or equivalent, and have a minimum five years of driving experience. Commercial driving experience with a CDL Class B with P.S. endorsement is preferred but not required.
All bus drivers in the district are provided PPE and sanitizing supplies for their buses. They also provide masks for students who show up to the bus stop without a face covering.
Rora said the students are their first priority, and is asking for parents to have patience while the district works to hire and train new bus drivers to cover the district’s 262 routes.
“We understand the situation we are dealing with but please know we care about each and every child and we’re working to get those drivers on board and get the routes replenished with a body in the seat and to have extra for backup. Please be patient with us,” said Rora.
Rora said the district sends out Skylert messages to inform parents when a bus is going to be late for pick-up or drop-off.