Wilson County Schools are once again faced with a bus driver shortage.
Parents across the county are being told they have to pick up or drop off their students because there aren’t enough drivers.
There are fifteen routes across the county that don’t have designated drivers, which translates to bus overcrowding, long travel times for students, and canceled routes.
“We get multiple calls from parents and we tell them we just don’t have the drivers. We don’t have anybody available to complete the route,” said Wilson County Schools Operation Manager Penny French.
After running into the same problem last year, the school board approved several changes. Starting pay for a driver was increased three dollars to $17 an hour.
The district also now pays to train drivers and there are increased medical benefits.
The changes worked for a bit, but now the district is nearly back at square one.
“Then we started losing them again,” said Jerry Partlow, Wilson County Schools Transportation Director. “I guess it’s kind of cyclical. It ebbs and flows.”
Partlow says retirement, health issues, and burnout are among the reasons for the exodus. The county lost twelve drivers over the summer. They need fifteen right now.
Wilson County implemented an electronic discipline system to combat burnout. A bus driver can lodge a complaint against a student and then a teacher at school will follow up.
Some bus drivers also dropped out while training over the summer. Their complaint is that training took too long.
“The key is to get them through the process as quickly as possible and getting them behind the wheel,” said Partlow. “But we’re not going to put a driver on the road until we feel comfortable that they can handle the equipment safely and the children safely.”
Bus mechanics and driver trainers are those operating buses to cover the gap. There are also drivers who will cover two or three routes.
“It’s really trying for our drivers,” said French. “They’re constantly doing doubles and triples throughout the day.”
Meanwhile, students will get home late. Parents will receive robocalls notifying them of the delay.
“Wilson County School bus number 0228 for Mt. Juliet Elementary will be replaced with bus number 1545 and will be arriving home late today by 30 minutes,” says one robocall. “Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Anyone looking to apply for a bus driver position is urged to do so here or you can go to the transportation department and an employee will help you fill out an application.