Courtesy busing cut route-by-route in Manatee County due to bus driver shortage

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Students in Phoenix, Arizona, are now forced to sit on each other's laps on a school bus . Officials there blame a lack of drivers.

In the Tampa Bay area it is the same problem. Some school districts are making changes because they can not fill the jobs, too.

It is a competitive world when it comes to hiring bus drivers these days.

"I obviously think paying them more would be of benefit," said Katie O'Connor, whose 5th grade son attends Anna Maria Elementary School. 

School officials in Manatee County agree. New bus drivers right now earn only $12.57 an hour.

"It’s something that all transportation apartments are dealing with. We try to come up with creative ways to recruit bus drivers anyway that we can," said Jason Harris, the Director of Transportation and Maintenance for Manatee County Schools. 

The school district is short about 25 drivers. The first thing to go is courtesy busing. Those are rides given to kids who are not living in a school zone but have been granted a hardship. 

"Dropping him off is fine. It’s picking him up in the afternoon," said O'Connor, who says her son and seven other students at Anna Maria Elementary School found their rides on the chopping block.

O’Connor says the bus has been dropping her son off at Palma Sola Presbyterian Church for the last two years. It is a 12 minute drive from the school. She is wonder if the bus is continuing to stop why certain kids can no longer ride.

The district says it has more to do with overcrowding and current drivers having to pick up new routes.

Last month, a handful of bus drivers expressed their own concerns over the extra routes they were picking up. The drivers claimed they didn't know the names of kids they didn't normally pick up and drop off and worried kids could get off at the wrong stop.

Harris says those concerns have been resolved. Each driver is provided a roster of kids on the bus. If there is a new student not listed on the roster, the bus driver is instructed to call into dispatch to find out the status of that student. 

"We were caught off guard with such late notice and some people may not have chosen to send their children here knowing there will be transportation throughout the year," said O'Connor.

She admits they moved this year and are now living in the school zone, but didn't change the "hardship status" because she didn't expect it to be cancelled. 

For now, O'Connor says family will pick her son up or he will have to carpool with other families. She hopes the district will at least extend it until the end of the year.

The district hopes voters will approve a raise in property taxes during the March 20 Special Election. The money will go towards paying teachers and bus drivers $33 million more a year.  

We reached out to other school districts in the Tampa Bay area.

Pinellas County says it is short about 30 to 40 drivers; Pasco is 26 drivers, 20 relief drivers and 18 assistants short; Sarasota County is short 20 drivers and two aides.

To learn more about open positions, benefits, and qualifications click on the appropriate county of interest below. 

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