2015-07-15 / Front Page

School day shift caused by bus driver shortage

By Anne Marie Kyzer

Eight drivers could have made all the difference for more than 4,000 school children.

A shortage of bus drivers prompted transportation officials to stagger start times for Burke County Public Schools, delaying the school day by about a half hour at Waynesboro Primary, SGA Elementary and Blakeney Elementary schools.

Those schools won’t start class until 8:30 a.m., while the middle and high schools will begin at 7:50 a.m.

When the new schedule was first released last week, a number of parents were concerned this would create a challenge for those who drop their children off on the way to work, but administrators have since tweaked the schedule to allow the children in the schools as early as 7:30 a.m.

“We’ll have some people there, so working parents will be able to drop their children off,” Board of Education Chairman Johnny Jenkins assured.

The changes have been a logistical challenge for school officials, but they say there simply wasn’t much of a choice.

Rev. Clary Dishmond, assistant transportation director, said a worsening statewide shortage of bus drivers hit home in Burke County this year.

They need 79 drivers to run the system as usual but they only have 71.

They’re dealing with those vacancies by having some buses make double runs in the city. The staggered start times at the schools give them time to drop the middle and high school students off and then go back out to gather the younger children. They’ll do the same in the afternoon when the middle and high schools let out 35 minutes earlier than the others.

Rev. Dishmond said they chose to keep the middle and high schools on the traditional schedule because of afterschool activities.

A number of bus drivers return from their after-school runs throughout the county to take athletes and other students home in the evening. In addition, athletes and others would miss too much class time if they had to travel for sporting events or other competitions held after school.

“There are really no good options,” Rev. Dishmond said, adding that it could be far worse.

“We found out that 95 percent of the counties are in as bad or worse shape than we are. Several counties are doing double runs for the entire school system. Some elementary schools are picking up as early as 5:30 in the morning. No one wants to put their child on the bus that early. We opted to push our times back a little more.”

Parents who have questions or concerns about the new school times are asked to contact their child’s school.

INTERESTED IN A JOB?

Anyone interested in applying for a bus driving position should contact the Burke County Public Schools Transportation Department. Drivers are paid about $12,700 per year, a $2,000 increase over years past, and receive health benefits for working about four hours each school day. For more information, see the employment ad on page 7B.

WHY THE SHORTAGE?

School systems across the state have been coping with driver shortages for years, but they’ve worsened of late. “A lot of the drivers are getting older,” Rev. Dishmond explained. “Another major issue is getting enough drivers to pass the CDL (commercial driver’s license) test. It’s gotten extremely tough over the last three or four years and it’s a strenuous process now. We’ve been trying to recruit drivers and even tried getting parapros to test for it.” He said Burke County called on coaches and teachers who held CDLs to fill in the gaps last year but this time that won’t be enough.

Rev. Dishmond added that the system must have at least a handful of substitute drivers on hand, because on any given day, as many as eight to 10 drivers could be out.

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