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New-Albany-Floyd County Superintendent Brad Snyder said the district is “marginally staffed” in terms of bus drivers, and the substitute driver pool is “very thin.” Many Indiana schools and schools throughout the country are facing shortages of drivers.

SOUTHERN INDIANA — A shortage of bus drivers has become a daily challenge for several Southern Indiana schools.

In Greater Clark County Schools, the shortage of transportation staff has caused some drivers to double up on routes. When bus drivers are absent, even office staff and mechanics are stepping up to cover routes.

Daniel Borders started this week as the district’s new director of transportation, and he has been among the transportation staff chipping in to drive students.

“There was a day [this week] where we actually had to send out a message to parents to let them know, we’ll get the kids home, but we just don’t know when,” he said. “The route coordinator ended up driving two afternoon routes, and it took a lot longer.”

“We’ve promised to parents that we’ll get their kids home, but it might not be on time at the moment,” he said.

Greater Clark’s transportation office is typically closed in the afternoon, because staff are helping cover bus routes, Borders said. If they are certified, they may be driving school buses, and some are chauffeuring students using other vehicles, including smaller buses and cars.

Borders previously worked for Greater Clark as a transportation coordinator and manager. After leaving the district for about five months, he returned to fill the vacant position of transportation director.

The district is trying to fill about 15 positions in the transportation department, Borders said, including six positions for bus drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

“Every absence throws us, and every little thing throws a wrench in our cogs,” Borders said.

New-Albany-Floyd County Superintendent Brad Snyder said the district is “marginally staffed” in terms of bus drivers, and the substitute driver pool is “very thin.”

“The core issue of available and licensed drivers existed before COVID, but with COVID it became a lot more dire, and our numbers just dropped,” Snyder said. “It comes down to supply and demand, because our demand hasn’t changed, but our supply has clearly gone down.”

It is often “all hands on deck,” Snyder said.

“There are many days when we don’t have any mechanics available, because they are driving routes,” he said. “That’s not the best situation if a bus breaks down or something like that. With our office staff, if they have a [CDL], we put them on a bus.”

Many drivers are older individuals, and when they retire, it can be difficult to find younger people to fill the positions, Borders said.

Borders sent out a letter to parents this week explaining the transportation challenges. He said he wants to be transparent with the problems they are facing, and he is asking parents for patience as they work through the issues.

A number of parents have expressed interest in becoming a bus driver, according to Borders. The training can take a month to six months, he said.

In the 2020-21 school year, Greater Clark started offering attendance bonuses for bus drivers— if they only missed one day per nine weeks, they earn $200, according to Borders.

He notes that the bus driver positions are part-time jobs with full-time benefits, including access to the district’s health and wellness center. The district’s starting salary for bus drivers is $16 an hour, but that number could possibly go up depending on ongoing negotiations.

Many places are hiring at the moment, so it is a competitive field, Borders said.

“We’re trying to think outside the box,” he said.

Snyder said the wage scale and benefits offered by NAFCS “are as competitive as they get for the bus driving profession.” The starting pay for substitute drivers is $23 an hour, and for regular bus drivers, it is $23.98 and full benefits.

In September, the NAFCS board approved several incentives for substitute bus drivers, including a $1,200 bonus to reimburse the cost of training and licenses for new bus drivers and $500 sign-on bonuses for bus drivers who are already trained.

Borden-Henryville School Corp. faced transportation challenges earlier in the school year, but the situations has improved, according to Superintendent Johnny Budd.

In August, the Henryville campus faced a four-day period of eLearning, which was mainly related to transportation staffing shortages as drivers were out on quarantine and other reasons.

The district is now fully staffed, he said, and the district has added to its pool of substitute drivers, including some retired drivers who stepped up to help as they saw the need for drivers in the community, Budd said.

“Overall, things are still a little tight, but we’re in better shape,” Budd said.

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