According to the Delaware Department of Education, Bus driver shortages was a challenge prior to the pandemic.
NEW CASTLE, DE (DNTV): Lehanes Bus Service in New Castle, Delaware is just one of a handful of contracted school bus companies in Delaware that is facing the significant shortage and according to the Delaware Department of Education, their not the only ones.
Like the rest of the nation, Delaware faces a school bus driver shortage. School districts and charter schools have been working hard to recruit new employees, but unfortunately report few new applicants into the field.
According to the Delaware Department of Education, Bus driver shortages was a challenge prior to the pandemic. Since the pandemic, the shortage has worsened because the average age of our school bus drivers puts them into higher risk categories.
“As Delaware’s school districts and charter schools prepare for the 2021-22 school year, local officials report the need for more drivers across the state. This staffing shortage also extends to bus aides, who assist with special transportation requirements for students.,” Said May Alison, a spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Education. “Because the timeline for getting school bus drivers properly trained and credentialed is governed by federal and state law and regulations, our school districts and charter schools are feeling intense pressure to hire staff immediately so they have staff ready for the start of the school year.”
We spoke to Tyler Brian who is the Education Associate of School transportation at the Delaware Department of Education, and he explains as Delaware emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts across the state are facing the significant shortage of not only school bus drivers but also aides, for the upcoming school year.
Brian says it’s a national issue and only got worst in Delaware when drivers were allowed to return to their jobs last year but elected not to due to fear of catching COVID-19.
When asked how short of school bus drivers Delaware is looking at for the upcoming school year, Brian says their still collecting that data, but that school districts are facing at least five drivers or more short in each district, However, the operators for Lehanes Bus Service says it’s much worse than that.
Lehanes Bus Service Operators, PJ and Chrisi says before the pandemic, they were already facing bus driver shortages. Chrisi says they had 33 drivers in 2019 prior to the pandemic and now they are left with just 19 for the upcoming school year.
Driver shortages is not just happening in Delaware. It’s a national issue and existed before the coronavirus pandemic. Chrisi says it’s only gotten worse as the pandemic ended. The average age of bus drivers puts the group in the more at-risk category for COVID infection.
Photo, George Shea, For Delaware Newsline | PJ & Chrisi Lehane of Lehanes Bus Service in New Castle is facing significant shortage of school bus drivers as the 2021-22 school year approaches.
“Pre-pandemic we were already short as every other small bus company was. Post pandemic, we were even shorter and put us in a worst situation because of the age bracket of bus drivers, um, their nervous about the virus and getting sick.,” Said Chrisi Lehane.
When asked how it will affect this year’s operations, Chrisi said with the shortage of drivers, all their office staff will have to go out on the road to help get the kids to and from school. PJ says it’s an “all hands on deck”, including people who work in their shop.
“That’s taking people out of the shop, people out of the office, and I mean if there’s a road call meaning if a bus is broken down on the side of the road, it’s kind of hard to get to a road call if everybody’s driving kids at the same time.,” Said PJ Lehane. “So it cause a little bit of a problem because you don’t want kids on the side of the road if there is a break down, but we don’t have many break downs.”
PJ believes driver recruitment is another challenge they face. Due to the states bus driver requirements and training, it’s can take up to two months to become a certified bus driver in Delaware, and PJ says the states training is too much information and takes too long to become a certified school bus driver in Delaware.
“You Know when drivers come in to try to get trained and everything they are bombarded with all this kind of information and it’s hard for them to acknowledge all that and try to gain all that knowledge and then get discouraged.,” Said PJ Lehane. “Thy get discouraged when they come in here and want to get their license or anywhere. It’s too much information to obtain. It’s way too much information for them but like I said, they get discouraged and then they go find something else.”
Back at the Department of Transportation, Brian said they are looking for ways to solve the problem and create ways to recruit and attract new drivers, but is it too late?
The Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) has been working with our school district/charter school partners to support them with this challenge. DDOE continued to provide driver and aide training throughout the pandemic.
The Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles is also supporting our efforts by scheduling road tests in a timely manner and accepting S endorsements from other states once the school bus drivers meet the Delaware training requirements.
The state is also offering a stipend to those who complete the training and become fully licensed.
To attract more candidates, the state has increased bus driver compensation and created additional financial incentives, such as double tier and triple tier allowances to more accurately compensate drivers that service more than one route. DDOE is developing a small group of stakeholders to explore additional opportunities that may help address or alleviate these staffing shortages, and the state’s Public School Transportation Committee is continuing to evaluate the funding formula and other transportation-related issues
What Delaware Certified School Bus Driver’s are saying at Lehanes
Now we spoke to a couple of bus drivers about their jobs and Roger Lee says he enjoys the job and looks forward to picking up the students everyday.
Wen asked what he liked most about the job, Lee says, “The kids. I really enjoy the kids. I look forward to picking up the students every day.”
Ethel Delong, who is Lehanes longest standing driver with over 35 years of service, say’s “It’s a good job. I mean, your home more than you are at work really. I’ve worked as a cashier and it wasn’t as easy as this.”
Interested? Here’s how you can get started in the process of becoming a Delaware certified school bus driver.
Now if you’re interested in become a Delaware certified school bus driver, the wait to actually begin driving a school bus is on average is about two months but as I mentioned earlier, the Delaware Department of Education is working on ways to improve this process that includes working with the Department of Motor Vehicles to speed up the appointment process.
Those interested in becoming a School Bus Driver/Aide can contact the DDOE, Transportation Office at (302) 857-3390 or via email DOESchool.Transportation@doe.k12.de.us. or contact a local school bus contractor in your area.
- Must be 18 years or older
2. Obtain a CDL
3. Individual will have to study the CDL manual and pass knowledge test at DMV to receive permit
4. Districts/Employers will provide trainers to teach the skills needed to past the road test at DMV
5. Complete a Delaware School Bus Driver Background Check
6. Complete Child Protection Registry
7. Pre-Employment Drug Testing
8. Delaware School Bus Driver Physical (w/tb screening)
9. Complete Behind the Wheel Training
10. Attend Delaware School Bus Driver Training School 2-day class (Offered in each county monthly)