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Tampa Bay area school districts facing 'unprecedented' bus driver shortages

Back to School 2016: Start dates for Bay area schools
Posted at 3:40 AM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 19:00:12-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay area school districts are dealing with an unprecedented shortage of school bus drivers and parents say it's causing daily confusion and delays.

In Hillsborough County Schools, district leaders are having drivers do double runs in many areas just to ensure they are getting students to school.

"We have communicated to parents since before school started that this would be an ongoing issue and we appreciate everyone's patience," said Erin Maloney, a district spokesperson.

"This is a nationwide issue that we are working to address by actively recruiting across multiple community job fairs, social media platforms, and even cold calling former or retired bus drivers to see if they would like to return."

District by district, school leaders are facing unprecedented levels of driver shortages.

Hillsborough County Schools has 750 drivers, but they still need to hire about 100 drivers.

In Pasco County Schools, officials said they have been saying for weeks that this year marks an all-time high in bus driver shortages. The district is short 78 regular bus drivers and 33 relief drivers.

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Monday morning, Pasco district leaders shifted all first-run bus stops to ten minutes earlier. That enables the bus drivers to finish the first run and get to the second-run stops sooner.

"It appears that it had the desired effect, which is that in the second and third tier, the buses are more often on time," said Stephen Hegarty, Public Information Officer for Pasco County Schools."

In Manatee County Schools, when they are operating at full capacity, they regularly run 133 buses. Currently, the district is looking to hire 21 bus drivers and 25 bus attendants.

In Polk County Schools, staffing numbers are about the same, they have around 80 vacancies out of 510 bus driver positions. They said they are still seeing bus delays but are making progress as they get further into the school year.

In Pinellas County Schools, the district has 350 bus drivers currently on staff, as well as 20 substitute drivers. However, district officials say they still need to hire 45 additional drivers.

Pinellas County parents say the lack of drivers is leading to confusion and delayed buses.

"A bus being over an hour late, and our children out in this Florida heat waiting for a bus and nobody knows when it's coming?" said Sarah Swarthout. "That's a bit disheartening."

Swarthout said the uncertainty over buses is causing her sixth-grader a lot of worries.

"He's stressing and he's having anxiety," she said, "How am I getting home? Is my bus going to be there?"

Pinellas County School leaders are using a notification system that notifies schools, parents, and students when there are bus delays, substitute drivers, and/or a bus change. That Service is free, but parents need to sign up.

They can also use the Call Center at 727-587-2020 Mondays to Fridays between 6:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Other districts are using similar notification systems.

SCHOOL BUS DRIVER HIRING

Career Fair with Pinellas County Schools
Thursday, September 2, 2021
Walter Pownall Service Center from 3-6:30 p.m.

Get hired with Hillsborough County Schools