Williamson County Schools making progress on bus driver shortage


Williamson County Schools making progress on bus driver shortage

UPDATE: This story was updated on August 20 to include additional information from Williamson County Schools.

By MATT BLOIS

Williamson County Schools has started to catch up on a years-long bus driver shortage, but the district is still looking for more drivers.

The district now has bus drivers for every route, but it still needs substitute drivers to fill in when people are out for the day. The district still needs 20 to 25 more drivers to comfortably cover every route. 

Last year, the district had 185 buses running 400 routes every morning and afternoon—200 for middle and high schools and 200 for elementary schools. The district had 15 routes that had to double back for a second load. 

Transportation Director Jeff Fuller wrote in an email that the district is in much better shape then previous years. Currently, the school district has 240 bus drivers.  That’s nine more drivers than last year.

If all drivers are working there are no doubled routes this year. If a driver is out sick or on vacation, then there are routes that need to be doubled. 

With three new schools, the district also added four new routes this year. In a tweet, Superintendent Mike Looney said the district surpassed 40,000 students for the first time this year.

Despite an increase in the number of drivers, some parents have reported delays in bus service during the first week of school. Brentwood resident Susan Pitts said her son consistently arrived at school late last week because of bus delays.

“We started the school year out without a driver,” she said. “We got a phone call … saying your route is going to run 20 to 40 minutes late.”

Pitts lives in the Brentview subdivision. She said the previous bus driver for that route retired last year. On Wednesday, the school district told her it assigned a driver to the route.

Fuller said in an email that the district has changed 90 percent of the bus routes since last year because of three new schools that opened in August. He said it takes a few weeks for traffic patters to adjust to the start of school. He plans to reevaluate and adjust routes as needed.

In a March memo presented to the School Board, Deputy Superintendent Jason Golden wrote that the district had been fighting a bus driver shortage for two years.

Williamson County School Board member Eric Welch said that finding more bus drivers is a topic that comes up at almost every monthly meeting. He called it a priority for Superintendent Mike Looney.

“It becomes the tail wagging the dog, everything from evaluating school start times and providing transportation for athletic events,” he said. “You start having to make your decisions upon the availability of bus drivers, and not what is the best way to do this.”

Welch said that the low unemployment rate in Williamson County made it hard to hire bus drivers recently, but the district has made an effort to make the job more attractive.

The School Board increased the starting pay for bus drivers in October 2016 from $14.72 to $17.96 per hour. The district also offers drivers paid training and three days of paid vacation during the school year.

Pitts said she understand why it’s hard for the district to find drivers, and she’s hoping the district can find enough people to fully staff all the bus routes. She said there probably are people who could drive the bus, but haven’t heard the message.

“I truly believe we have the resources here in Williamson County,” she said. “We just haven’t figured out how to reach out to those people.”

Anyone wishing to apply to work as a bus driver can apply on the district’s website.

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