Metro Atlanta students being forced to pack on school buses because of driver shortages

ATLANTA — Parents and bus drivers across the metro are concerned for students’ health as many of them are packed like sardines onto school buses amid the pandemic.

As the nationwide shortage of bus drivers continues, many local drivers are feeling the strain of transporting hundreds of students daily.

Some drivers told Channel 2′s Ashli Lincoln that they had as many as three separate routes on one bus because with fewer drivers, there are fewer buses to get kids to school.

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“You don’t have enough drivers to support the amount of kids that we have because it’s not enough safety precautions for drivers,” a DeKalb County bus driver who wanted to remain anonymous told Lincoln.

Another bus driver says that even though she tested positive for COVID-19, the district is in such a need that she got a call from her supervisor on Monday asking her to report to work.

“I’m still positive after those 10 days, I said, ‘Oh, I don’t have a negative test,’ and they were like, ‘Well you quarantined for 10 days.’ That’s not ok, because you’re playing with people’s children and lives,” she said.

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Parents and drivers alike told Channel 2 Action News that pick up and drop off times have been delayed by hours at a time. Some children aren’t being dropped back off at home until as late as 6 p.m.

Area districts have confirmed that they have had to combine bus routes in order to cover the gaps in drivers.

“You might have two schools on one bus at a time, and I know that from experience,” the bus driver from DeKalb County said.

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Atlanta Public Schools is searching for 30 drivers. Fulton County has 40 vacant positions. Clayton County is looking to hire more than 60 drivers. DeKalb County says they need more than 100 bus drivers.

Henry County school leaders just announced plans to spend $2 million to improve the transportation department and raise wages for bus drivers.

The National School Transportation Association says the main reason that bus drivers are leaving is because of concerns with COVID-19, early retirement and leaving for higher paying jobs.

Several metro school districts have released statements on their school bus driver shortages.

We are looking to hire about 30 bus drivers for this school year. We have enough drivers to cover all of our routes, but we would love to have more even more skilled drivers transporting our students.

Starting pay is $18 per hour, even for those with no experience as long as you have a clean driving record. For those with a Commercial Drivers License (CDL), starting pay can be as much as $26 per hour. And we are offering $1,000 signing bonuses as well!

Also, our fulltime drivers receive retirement, health and life insurance.

A career as a school bus driver is one of the few opportunities that allow for a healthy work-life balance. You’ll be able to earn the money you need, contribute to the community, and still have plenty of time to do all the things outside of work that are important to you!

Those interested in applying to be one of our bus drivers may visit our website at www.apscareers.org/bus-driver.

—  Atlanta Public Schools representative

FCS has about 800 bus driver positions with 35-40 vacant driver positions. The competitiveness for K-12 personnel in the Atlanta Metro area is an ongoing factor that we must consider in our recruitment efforts. FCS has a very competitive starting bus driver pay of $20.40 per hour and a full benefits package. We are also currently offering a hiring incentive of $ 1,000 through August 31 (tomorrow) and paid training.

—  Fulton County Schools spokesperson

Just like other districts, DeKalb County School District is experiencing a shortage of school bus drivers. Our dedicated drivers are working extra hours to get our students to school safely and on time. The District has implemented an advertising campaign that includes billboards, social media and print media to attract potential candidates, and added incentives such as increased pay to resolve the issue promptly.

—  DeKalb County School District spokesperson

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