Chronic shortage of school bus drivers means SC districts are hiring

Students board buses after school at Sullivan Middle School on Wednesday.
Students board buses after school at Sullivan Middle School on Wednesday. aburriss@heraldonline.com

York County, Chester and Lancaster school districts need at least 50 school bus drivers to fill existing vacancies.

Hiring enough school bus drivers has been a chronic problem, though recruitment is ongoing, transportation officials with various districts say.

Two factors – an improving economy and growth – are making the problem worse for districts this year.

“The economy is improving and there are better-paying jobs,” said Bernard Gill, Rock Hill school district transportation director.

“This is the worst year ever,” said Gill, who has served as director for 10 years.

The state sets the base pay – about $7.50 an hour –for school bus drivers. Local school districts supplement the pay, with entry-level drivers earning about $10 an hour. Experienced bus drivers can make about $14 an hour. Some districts, such as Clover, Rock Hill and Fort Mill, offer benefits to their drivers.

Population growth is affecting the Clover, Fort Mill and Lancaster school districts.

Fort Mill officials estimate they need to hire as many as 22 drivers to fill vacancies and to fill in for those drivers who are out on health leave.

Fort Mill’s school enrollment has increased by 800 students since last year, said district spokesperson Kelly McKinney. That enrollment increase, McKinney said, is similar to opening a new school in Fort Mill.

Indian Land in Lancaster is also seeing rapid growth.

Indian Land High School was built for 850 students. Its enrollment this year is 839. The high school can be expanded to 1,200 students.

Indian Land Middle School has 894 students. An expansion to accommodate 400 more students is scheduled to start in December.

Bryan Vaughn, director of safety and transportation for Lancaster schools, said his district needs at least six more bus drivers. At least three of the positions are needed due to growth in the Indian Land area.

Jonathan Rudd, transportation coordinator for Clover schools, said he needs eight drivers.

Growth has not increased Clover’s need for more drivers – yet. Rudd said the biggest growth-related problem he has is traffic, which can delay bus arrivals at schools.

Hiring a bus driver is a lengthy process that can last more than three months. Between 40 and 45 hours of training and classes are required.

Federal law requires all school bus drivers to have a commercial driver’s license, be age 18 or older and meet all “special physical, mental and moral requirements” established by a school district or state.

South Carolina law requires all school bus drivers to:

▪ Have no more than 4 points against their current driving record.

▪ Complete a 20-hour training program.

▪ Pass a physical exam and performance test, drug screen and background check.

▪ Have at least 12 months of driving experience.

Most districts also require drivers to take at least 10 hours of behind-the-wheel training. In many instances, it takes four times that to master driving a bus, officials said.

Transportation officials said they are constantly recruiting for bus drivers, with Vaughn calling the need for more drivers “a universal issue.”

Even with constant recruitment, the talent pipeline is never full, officials said. Many school bus driver candidates don’t survive the rigorous training requirements. Vaughn said for every 10 people who start, one or two finish.

Finding someone who can work the required hours is also difficult. Drivers must be available in the morning and again in the late afternoon.

Because of the hours, the job is often filled by people looking to make extra income or who are retired.

School districts have limited options to get students to their schools on time, Gill said.

Sometimes, he said, officials “can double up on routes” or look to consolidate routes. Those options are already in use as school districts look to keep their routes between 30 and 45 minutes – about 15 minutes short of the state’s maximum route time.

Districts such as Clover plan their routes around schools or geographic areas, training drivers on all the possible routes. That training allows for flexibility when incidents, like a bus breaking down, occur.

Don Worthington: 803-329-4066, @rhherald_donw

The Fort Mill Times contributed to this story.

Bus driver jobs available

Here’s how to apply for bus driver positions with local school districts:

Chester: Call 803-581-2163 or visit www.chester.k12.sc.us

Clover: Call 803-810-8190 or go online at http://www.applitrack.com/clover/onlineapp/jobpostings/view.asp?internaltransferform.Url=&category=Transportation

Fort Mill: Call 803-802-1998 or go online at applitrack.com/fortmill/onlineapp

Lancaster: Call 803-285-6009 or go online at https://ww:w.applitrack.com/lcsd/onlineapp/default.aspx?all=1

Rock Hill: Call 803-980-2022 or go online at http://www.rock-hill.k12.sc.us/departments/transportation/employment.aspx

York: Call 803-684-9916 or go online at http://yorksd1.schoolrecruiter.net/