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Many San Diego County schools have bus driver shortage

Mirroring a national issue, many local school districts are seeing a bus driver shortage. This decline is causing bus routes to be cancelled and imposing wait lists

SAN DIEGO — School districts across the county are reporting direct impacts to having a bus driver and rider shortage. 

The San Diego Unified School District says it could run into issues as more COVID cases are on the rise, and they don't have any substitute drivers to fill in.

“Right now we have a staffing in place to start school on Monday, but we are concerned about the shortage. COVID has slowed down the process for the California Highway Patrol to approve bus driver licenses,” said San Diego Unified School District President Richard Barrera.

Barrera says there are growing COVID concerns due to the rise in delta variant cases locally.

"The thing that keeps us on pins and needles you know is will we have large numbers of our drivers who will have to isolate within the first couple of weeks because of COVID?” Barrera said.

As the largest school district in the county, SDUSD would have to bring in substitute drivers in an emergency but it currently does not have any. The Poway Unified School District also does not have any backup drivers.

“We have increased shortages, but we are not seeing the recruitment success that we normally have,” said Tim Purvis, director of transportation for the Poway Unified School District.

Purvis was once a bus driver himself in 1984 as he would take college classes during the day. 

Now, working for the Poway for 31 years, he says there has always been a driver shortage but never like this. The district will have 107 routes this year compared to nearly 130 bus routes in years past, and it is short 12 drivers.

"We simply for the first time in my history, and I believe in the first time in the history of the district are putting students on waitlists for openings on those buses."

The Lakeside Union School District had to cancel some of its bus routes altogether. Superintendent Dr. Rhonda Taylor said the number of bus riders has declined over the last three years.

"We lost about seven bus drivers between retirement and moving out of state,” Taylor said.

The drop in bus drivers in San Diego County mirrors a nationwide shortage estimated in the tens of thousands. Some states are offering four-figure cash incentives, including Georgia, Maryland and Montana.

"Nothing is off the table as far as incentives for the recruitment of successful applicants,” Purvis said.

Barrera said SDUSD already decided to increase the daily pay for substitute teachers, and “We are prepared to do that for substitute bus drivers. We think our district is very competitive in terms of salaries. We offer 100% paid family health benefits and a defined pension for bus drivers, and we provide training.”

The Sweetwater Union High School District sent a statement saying:

"Maintaining our current level of service is vulnerable if impacts continue to maintain and/or increase. In response to the reduced staff, and to best maintain day to day services all transportation staff are available to fill transport roles when necessary.”

Sweetwater said it is looking for licensed bus drivers and anyone interested in learning how to become a bus driver can contact the Sweetwater Transportation Director 619.585.4456.

The Chula Vista Elementary School District says it too "is experiencing a bus driver shortage due to many factors, including the pandemic. We continue to actively recruit drivers.”

CVESD is training and hiring school bus drivers and substitute teachers and classified employees—from custodians to noon duties. 

Anyone interested can call (619) 656-5610 for details.

WATCH RELATED: Lakeside school bus service canceled (August 2021)

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