Assistant superintendent Rob Dennis said that the recent retirement of one bus driver caused a shuffling of drivers that resulted in Route 41 to Bear Mountain being left vacant. That route serves between 30 to 40 students.
The shortage of bus drivers is so severe that another bus route that serves about 25 students in the Devereaux area was cancelled today because the driver was unavailable due to personal reasons and a replacement was not available. The district expects that driver will return tomorrow.
“We’re so tight to the wire on having anybody who can drive that even when somebody is sic, we have nobody to backfill,” said Dennis. “This is the first time, for sure, since I’ve been with the board office that I’ve seen a circumstance where we are that low on drivers.”
He said it has even gotten to the point where the district is using two shop mechanics, as well as transportation manager Keith Trail, who are all qualified drivers as well, to drive buses.
Dennis said there is no easy solution to the challenge because the district has been advertising for drivers since the end of the last school year, but has not been able to fill positions left vacant by departing drivers. He said the main issue is that industry in the region is also looking for drivers and is able to offer higher pay and more hours than the school district can.
“It’s a very competitive playing field, and, unfortunately, we only offer part-time work because that’s the nature of (school) bus driver work,” he said.
He added there is not much flexibility for the district to offer drivers more pay or hours.
“We’re using taxpayer dollars, and we are on a transportation budget that is declared to us. We already pull additional dollars out of the education side to operate as large a fleet as we do, and we can’t go up with that.”
Dennis said, in the past, the district has asked drivers to deviate from their normal routes to pick up students on other routes where necessary, but he said that would have to be at a central transfer point between two bus routes in order to prevent significant delays along the route. He added the district cannot simply amalgamate two routes into one, larger one without forcing students to get up much earlier than they currently do to catch the bus.
He said until a replacement can be found for the Bear Mountain route, the responsibility will lie with parents to transport those students to and from school.