HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — The band and Colorguard at Lennard High School have been practicing hard. And they've been hoping to show off their skills at state competitions. But, band parents tell ABC Action News that a lack of CDL-trained drivers is getting in their way.
"This year they're missing out on a lot of opportunities because we just don't have a way to get them there," said band parent, Rachel Ravencraft.
The groups say they've already missed out on a few recent competitions, because of canceled charter bus rides. Normally they would then call on the Hillsborough County School District as backup, and they did, but the district is short about 130 drivers and they couldn't accommodate the request on short notice.
"My family from Orlando came out and they had already started driving so it was a big let down to them," said Lennard High School student, E. Emory.
The school district says it's working on recruiting more drivers and even offering to pay for drivers to get their CDL.
"Right now I have 152 routes uncovered and so we do a lot of double backs," said the district's General Manager of Transportation, James Beekman.
The starting pay for school district drivers is currently 14.57 an hour. And some have argued that this is a stumbling block in the recruiting process, but the district says that might not be the case...
"San Francisco is paying $45 an hour for their bus drivers and they still can’t get bus drivers. Pittsburgh is $3500 sign-on bonus +30 bucks an hour and they still can’t get school bus drivers," said Beekman.
That said, a local mom and busing advocate, Josephine Amato, says raising driver pay can't hurt.
"They know our roadways, they know our community. It is an investment into our community," she said.
She says an easy way to do it, without stretching the district budget, is to install cameras on the outside of school buses to catch folks who illegally pass and use the money from their tickets to fund driver pay raises.
"When the bus stops, it will just film the cars surrounding the bus, just like our new vehicles today that have cameras on their bumpers," she said.
Amato has written up a proposed law to get this plan started and says she's even found a way to get the first rounds of cameras installed at no cost.
"We actually have some companies that we're vetting that are willing to do a case study at two schools and they will front all of the costs," she said.
Amato is currently pitching the idea to local leaders. But in the meantime, as the district works on hiring, the kids at Lennard High School are just hoping they don't miss next weekend's competition.
"We have the opportunity and we have the chance to finally do competitions but we just can't because of the buses," said a student.