Recently Pike Township had to switch to remote learning. That is not exactly an unfamiliar headline these days. Schools nationwide have had to resort to remote learning for the last two years because of the pandemic. However, Pike’s situation was not due to the pandemic, at least not directly. They, like many other school districts, simply didn’t have enough bus drivers to pick up the students.
All around the country, and even here locally, school districts are struggling to find enough bus drivers for the routes required for their school. This problem isn’t confined to low-funded, inner-city districts either. Affluent areas with plenty of money and political will to throw at the issue are having the same problem.
What is the cause of this problem? There doesn’t appear to be only one issue.
The easy scapegoat is the COVID-19 pandemic, and that has certainly exacerbated the issue, but this was an issue we covered BEFORE the pandemic started. The fact of the matter is that even prior to coronavirus, school bus driving was a low pay, high stress job with a relatively high barrier for entry. Even though it is considered part time work, the hours don’t really allow for a second job the way other lower paying jobs would. These downsides does not help for a job that is hard, much harder than people think.
Now on top of all of the above issues people have to consider their health. Many bus drivers are older at risk retirees who understandably are nervous about being around unvaccinated children. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some bus drivers don’t want to get the vaccine in a place that has or is considering mandating it. Personal heath aside, the looming threat of a school district closing its doors for a couple of weeks and leaving drivers without work is enough to make people uneasy about committing to being a school bus driver.
Schools have found ways to combat this issue by increasing walk-zones, combining routes, outsourcing to other bus companies, but these are patch work fixes. Most districts are left vulnerable to a large number of bus drivers simply calling out for the day, which is precisely what happened in Pike Township. Though the district has not acknowledged the “strike” as the cause, some bus drivers have spoken out and said that the callouts are over the low pay.
Even in places where the pay is more, schools are having a hard time staffing the busses. There are a lot of jobs out there at the moment. And if you want to drive, it is easier to have your CDL and drive a vehicle that doesn’t contain 50 screaming kids not wearing their masks … and it will probably pay better, too. Make no mistake about it; this is a systemic issue, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. As is the case with most other issues related to education, COVID didn’t cause the problem … it just exacerbated the gaps that were already present.