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School Districts Feeling Impact Of Bus Driver Shortages

In the school year where most things are back to normal after the pandemic, challenges such as the nationwide bus driver shortage still remain for schools both nationally and locally.

The bus driver shortage is not something that is new this year, but it is something that has escalated since the beginning of the school year. In fact most of the time schools can find themselves slightly short on bus drivers at the very beginning of the year, but nationally it is estimated that districts are 30-50% short on drivers at the moment this year.

The shortage is estimated to be caused by many of the same things that have caused the overall labor shortage, such as low pay, stress, and overall pandemic worries. COVID-19 variants are still around and a school bus is one of the many places where sickness is able to spread the easiest.

Locally, at Panama Central School, the shortage is hitting in a similar way to nationwide schools.

“It’s affecting Panama like most schools,” former Panama Superintendent Bert Lictus said. “We’ve been talking with local people who might have an interest in driving for us. We are working to be able to help with training and certification. We are hopeful it will work out, but it’s not an easy fix. It can take a lot to train as a bus driver. It’s a difficult situation.”

In order to be a bus driver, one must have a commercial driver’s license with an “s” or school bus endorsement. A “p” or passenger endorsement is also needed. The state is currently waiving the 14-day waiting fee in between taking the written and drivers test for those working to earn their CDL license to help address the shortage.

At Randolph Central School, the concern about the shortage is high, but the school is willing to work to help those interested to train to fill the spots.

“Randolph Central School, like all other districts, is concerned,” Superintendent Kaine Kelly said. “We’ve been taking proactive measures over the last two or three years to train drivers to keep the roster full. At the moment we have just the amount needed to start the school year. We have no excess drivers. I put it out as a standing job post for those who are willing to train. We accept everyone that is licensed and able to drive and we are willing to work with them to get there. We also have a contract that drivers must drive a certain amount of time with us.”

Even in districts that are doing all right with the amount of drivers right now, there is still a need for more.

“We’re doing well this year, though it was a challenge in the previous year,” Cassadaga Valley Superintendent Chuck Leichner said. “We’re well staffed this year but we could always use some more. For now though, we are good to go.”

Some school districts, such as Westfield, also do not have a significant shortage at this time.

“We are fortunate to have no significant shortage right now,” Superintendent Mike Cipolla said. “We try to have a good amount of substitute drivers available. We offer training for drivers as well, but at the moment we have sufficient staff and are able to handle all of our needs.”

And yet for other local school districts the struggle has continued.

“We have been short three drivers since the start of the year,” Bemus Point Superintendent Joseph Reyda said. “We are continuing to look for interested people. We are doing our very best to work with parents to get kids to and from school in every building every day. Sports events and after school activities at Maple Grove are a big challenge.”

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