ORLANDO, Fla. – Growing student populations and a nationwide shortage of bus drivers is putting school districts across Central Florida under pressure and they’re finding creative ways to try and hire more.
In Volusia County, there’s currently 50 bus driver openings. The district said compared to two years ago, they’re transporting almost a thousand more students but with fewer drivers and routes. They’re offering incentives now like a $500 signing bonus for drivers.
In Osceola County, the transportation department is hosting a big hiring event Tuesday.
“We need the community to step up so that way their kids are successful,” said Zach Downes, transportation spokesperson for the district.
It’s hosting a job fair at the Osceola County Schools Transportation Services Compound on Simpson Road in Kissimmee. It will be at 401 Simpson Road from 8 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
The pay for the district ranges from $12.75 to $22 an hour depending on experience and if the driver is full- or part-time. “You don’t have to be a permanent bus driver. You can do this part time. If you want to be a permanent bus driver, we encourage it but even just having substitute bus drivers helps us,” Downes said.
Downes said the shortage is affecting more than just overworked drivers but also parents who must get to work, low-income students missing free meals and teachers’ jobs.
“The state requires a student to be in front of a teacher for instruction for a certain amount of time so if the bus is late, it cuts into that time and then it cuts into the teacher’s review and the district’s performance,” he said.
The district is down 36 drivers on top of current drivers calling off with COVID.
“Bus drivers from other routes have to come and get them and that can mean overcrowding on the bus,” Downes said.
Marion County is also heading out into the community at five locations Tuesday and is looking to hire 20 drivers.
District leaders will be set up from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at College of Central Florida, Liberty Middle School, Madison Street Academy, Marion Oaks Community Center and North Marion High School.
“It’s typical for us to have shortage but COVID has added a lot of stress,” said Rebecca Rora, the district’s transportation director.
She said they’re also adding incentives like no out-of-pocket training, pay starting at $15.65 an hour and benefits.
“We just waived the high school diploma but if you come to us with a good driving record, a good background or fingerprint check, and can pass that physical, we do the certification and teach you,” she said.