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Tampa Bay school districts still search for bus drivers ahead of first day back

Hundreds are needed in districts across the region
School Bus Driver Shortage
Posted at 6:47 AM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-03 07:07:43-04

TAMPA, Fla. — A week from the start of school for most Tampa Bay students, several local districts are still hunting for more bus drivers and bus driver assistants.

At last check, Hillsborough County Public Schools is looking to hire 180 more drivers. The process of hiring remains stiffly competitive, said Jim Beekman, the district’s General Manager of Transportation Services.

“We raised our wages for our drivers, you know, this past spring, you know, and did get them bumped up to $16 an hour,” he said in an interview last week. “Two weeks ago, I was over in the Orlando area talking to a driver that works for a private contractor that works for Disney, and they got bumped up to $15 an hour last year, and now they’re up to $23 an hour.”

This month, if voters approve the school district’s attempt to raise property taxes, Beekman believes he and the district can have more success in hiring those drivers by yet again increasing pay.

“It will go a great way to help allow us to be competitive in the marketplace that we’re at,” he said of the potential millage increase. “We need good people. We need to pay them well, but we need good people to take care of our kids. You know, we have to do something to make sure our students are taken care of.”

Learn more about becoming a bus driver for Hillsborough County Public Schools at this link.

With the current shortage, some drivers will yet again be doing double or triple runs.

“Routes will be impacted much like they were last year,” Beekman said. “Last year, we operated in a deficit.”

He said the district will aim to provide parents with specific times for pick-up.

Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Public Schools parents can find their students’ current bus route information at this link.

The need isn’t as great for Pinellas County Schools, according to Isabel Mascareñas, a spokesperson for the district. Pinellas County Schools currently has a driver for each of its 333 school bus routes. However, it needs 30-40 extra drivers (to account for driver absences) and 70-80 school bus assistants.

Learn more about becoming a bus driver for Pinellas County Schools at this link.

Pasco County Schools reduced routes to help with its shortage of bus drivers. Last year at this time, it had 420 routes. Now, it has 332. According to spokesperson Wayne Bertsch, the district currently has 277 regular route drivers and 39 relief drivers, which “cover routes for drivers who are absent or routes where we have vacancies.” The district is short 55 regular route drivers.

Learn more about becoming a bus driver for Pasco County Schools at this link.

The School District of Manatee County is still looking to hire 18 bus drivers and 17 bus aides, but according to spokesperson Michael Barber, the district has “plans in place for the start of school to make sure our routes are covered.”

Learn more about becoming a bus driver for the School District of Manatee County at this link.

At Polk County Public Schools, a spokesperson couldn’t provide an exact number of the current shortage of drivers but said the district is “definitely” looking to hire more. According to Kyle Kennedy, starting pay for bus drivers at Polk County Public Schools is $16.25 per hour. Drivers are eligible for “health insurance and free employee health clinics,” “Florida Retirement System benefits,” “generous time off,” and “other perks.”

In Polk County, Kennedy said applicants can contact 863-534-7298 or email herschel.pipkins@polk-fl.net or chrystal.robinson@polk-fl.net. Walk-in applicants are also welcome: Stop by the transportation office during regular hours at 1430 State Road 60 E. in Bartow.