FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Many ofdistricts are finding it difficult to hire enough bus drivers because of the pandemic, with some using managers and other stop-gap measures to get students to class as the new school year begins. The Associated Press contacted most of the state’s 20 largest districts Monday. Many said they could not fill their , forcing some drivers to handle different routes. Other communities are asking when possible to reduce the numbers requiring busing or putting transportation department managers back behind the wheel.
The resurgent COVID-19 pandemic has hard hit Florida, and that has likely scared off candidates for a job that can be stressful under normal circumstances. Many districts do not requireon buses, but even those that do are short of drivers. “Recruiting and retaining bus drivers was a struggle pre-pandemic, but the labor shortage, in general, has exacerbated the issue not only for us but for districts everywhere,” said Erin Maloney, a spokesperson for Hillsborough County in the Tampa Bay area. The district requires students to wear opt out, but it must still add 100 drivers to the 750 now working.
“Our busin some areas to ensure kids get to school,” Maloney said. “We also have anyone with a license who can out on the roads instead. It is all hands on deck.” The had no immediate comment Monday on the driver shortage. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the delta variant of the virus has swept through Florida over the last two months: About 15,600 people are , nearly eight times more than in June.
Not all districts are struggling. A few sections, like Pinellas, Seminole, and Brevard counties, say that Palm Beach County schools asked parents to drive their children if possible. Polk County normally has 510 drivers but only has 430 working. Collier County uses staff and former substitute drivers to cover its routes fully. Lake County has 26 open positions out of 237. Lee County, which needs to add 100 drivers, made its drivers full-time employees so they are eligible for health insurance and other benefits sooner, giving an incentive to new hires., they have enough drivers. But others they are juggling to cover all their routes.
Neither Miami-Dade nor Broward schools, the state’s two largest districts, replied to emails and calls Monday. But Broward, which had two teachers and an assistant diefrom COVID, recently said it was short 150 drivers. Miami-Dade also recently said it is fast drivers. The shortage is especially acute in Pasco County, where 78 regular and 33 relief drivers are short. On Monday, the district shifted all its earliest bus stops up 10 minutes to allow drivers to finish sooner and get to their second routes.
“marks our all-time high in bus driver shortages,” district spokesperson Stephen Hegarty said. He said the shortage has a domino effect on some students’ days, with some arriving at school and getting home late. In Marion County, staffing shortages are routine in central Florida, which is larger geographically than . But COVID has exacerbated the poverty, and the district needs about two dozen drivers. “What’s hitting us most now is providing substitute drivers for those being quarantined” because district spokesman Kevin Christian said they or contacted someone who has it. “When you have a shortage compounded by quarantined drivers, that’s extra challenging.” In Hillsborough County, the has scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday after more than 5,500 students and 300 employees have either tested positive for COVID-19 or had close contact with a positive case.