School bus driver shortage causes chaos on first day back for Duval students

It was a chaotic first day back to school for some in Duval County

The school district said a shortage of bus drivers is worse than expected.

The bus tracking website listed dozens of delays Monday morning and afternoon. A spokesperson said that especially affected were the Westside, the Northside, the urban core area, and middle schools.

The district alerted parents Sunday to try to make alternate plans if they can or to stay with their kids at the bus stop and leave them with plenty of water because delays are expected and we’re once again dealing with excessive heat warnings.

All of this, the district says, coming after last week when drivers they expected to return, decided against it.

DCPS referred News4JAX to those bus contractors but it did not immediately respond to questions.

Student Transportation of America is still advertising a $3,000 signing bonus for drivers with their commercial driver’s licenses on its website.

And the district is assuring parents that students whose buses are significantly late picking them up in the afternoon will be supervised inside until it arrives.

Angela Young said her son’s bus didn’t show up Monday morning. She said as a mother of five, it puts her in a tight spot.

“The other kids go to different schools at different times, so it definitely affects a lot,” Young said.

Around 2:30 on Monday afternoon, the district’s website showed 40 buses were on time, including here at A. Philip Randolph High School, 35 buses were delayed up to half an hour, and 40 were listed as “working on coverage.”

The district said behind this are more than 130 empty bus driver positions out of about  800 positions, that’s a vacancy rate of about 16%.

Interim school superintendent Dr. Dana Kriznar said they are very concerned about the buses.

“And our contractors are working really hard to ensure that they make those pick-ups. There may be some delays. We want to make sure that our parents are aware of that and have a contingency plan,” she said.

A spokesperson for the union who represents local bus drivers, monitors and mechanics, said driver shortage continues to be a problem across the country. The spokesperson said they negotiated new contracts this weekend with DCPS bus contractors Durham School Services and Student Transportation of America (STA) and raised pay to $16 to $20 an hour.

Driver shortages in Duval County aren’t new. Contract documents show that in October, STA acknowledged they hadn’t been able to hire enough people to cover their routes.

The school district also acknowledged fears about COVID-19 and “concerns amongst the workforce” impacted the availability of bus drivers and monitors.

Both sides agreed they needed to take action, agreeing to spend:

More than $200,000 for advertising$435,000 for return-to-work bonusesMore than $133,000 in retention incentives

However, these measures were only in place for the previous contract year, which ended July 31.

Parents like Young are hoping the bus schedules get ironed out soon.

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